No No! Stick To The Status Quo: High School Musical (2006)

I when first undertaking the "experience" that proved to be High School Musical I thought that I would just pick the most absurd line in the entire film as the quote for the blog title.  There were quite a few options to choose from, but while watching I realized that the "Stick To The Status Quo" song which is apparently intended to promote diversity and extending beyond one's assumed roles in life, is really quite arbitrary in a film that suggests as long as you stick to your original accepted lifestyle, it is permissible to be curious about the world around you, but again as long as you are successful at your socially prescribed role.  I understand that this was a made for television movie that aired on Disney Channel, but damn if it was not the most popular thing upon the time of its release, particularly for a young and impressionable crowd of people, who might have seen the half-hearted, poorly made movie as a sign of pushing diversity or new ideas into the world.  I am not lying when I say that some of the acting and production value at play in High School Musical is worse than The Room.  At least, there is a sense of endearing misdirection in the so-bad-it's-good cult classic, here considering the budget dumped on this film, it is inconceivable that it is anything less than well-executed.  In terms of a musical, High School Musical also falters considerably as it relies on glaringly obvious post-production sound and is so heavily edited during the choreographed sequences as to make one wonder as to whether or not any performer knew their dance routine beyond say two or three steps.  If Disney was ever clear in its failed intents on promoting diversity, it is right here in this film that almost seems smug in how well it is able to check off its "look we have this person of color" checklist and does the bare minimum necessary to deal with any sort of body politics.  Stick to the status quo, while not the intended mantra of this inconceivably bad piece of television movie execution, nonetheless, proves to be its reality.  Indeed, High School Musical is so concerned with middle-grade normative execution in terms of narrative that at times it almost seems to be ironic, and where it released by any other company than Disney I might be able to follow such a possibility.  Here, however, it is just in bad taste.

High School Musical begins in some bizarre space of a Christmas break resort, where the young Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) finds himself more occupied with spending time with his dad and school basketball coach Jack Bolton (Bart Johnson) than taking in the festivities created for him and the others at the resort.  At the prodding of his mother, he agrees to attend a social for teenagers, where he is forced to sing karaoke alongside Gabrielle Montez (Vanessa Hudgens).  The two, despite their initial nervousness, hit it off and find themselves exchanging numbers, only to lose each other in the crowd of New Years partiers.  When Troy returns to school the following week, he discovers his basketball teams, most notably Chad (Corbin Bleu) in place, alongside his admirer and school drama star Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale) in line to engage in another normal year of school, with Troy as star basketball player and Sharpay as theatrical ingenue.  Yet, when Troy turns in class to discover Gabrielle in attendance he is immediately exited, realizing that it is his opportunity to rekindle their burgeoning interest from the break, a stroke a fate too great to pass up.  Both concerned with their ability to fit in under varied demands, Troy remaining a symbol of athletic prowess and Gabrielle navigating between being welcomed and avoiding becoming the brainiac girl, the two coalesce on auditioning for the drama departments annual musical, much to the confusion of the faux-erudite drama teacher Ms. Darbus (Alyson Reed).  The confusion is quickly removed when the two sing and all in attendance realize their skill, particularly the apprehensive Sharpay and her performance partner, sibling Ryan (Lucas Grabeel).  Needless to say sabotage becomes a thing of necessity as not only do the Evans siblings see the danger in their success, Chad and leader of the academic team Taylor McKessie (Monique Coleman) also want to quash their dreams, hoping that by doing so their respective organizations will succeed. After tricking the two into stepping down, the guilt proves to great and they manage to fix the status of both the big game and academic match to afford the two auditioning time, much to the pleasure of the entire school.  In the end the two rekindle their romance and a few other heteronormative pairings happen as a result.

This movie is half-concieved.  Hell, I would even go so far a to say that it was lacking in any sort of conceptual understanding of narrative gaps at all.  There are moments of contradiction in this film that just seem absolutely wrong to the point of being frustrating.  Set in the most nondescript of places Albuquerque, New Mexico, High School Musical pushes to create a space where all persons are represented.  Indeed, this is a rather normal trope in regards to the high school film, but it is also used in a much more knowing irony in say a John Hughes movie, or definitely so in Clueless. Here it is solely a result of a group of producers thinking they could profit hugely from creating a piece of young adult media that could be consumed by all.  However, the only people who would buy such malarky would have to be from upper-middle class status, although in such a situation as to believe that they are still situated within a lower class identity.  High School Musical, in fact, suffers most from its seeming willingness to embrace a society where all persons are on an equal financial footing.    Take for example, Troy's dad and his emphasis on the financial burden which will be removed from their family if he were to gain a scholarship.  The amount of escapist idealism here is treated with the same sense of urgency at play in the deeply moving and socially troubling documentary Hoop Dreams.  Were it to be a narrative where Troy was clearly from an impoverished family this would be less complicated morally, but it is worth remembering that the film begins with he and his family at a winter resort, in which money is clearly necessary to obtain.  If this were not enough, however, the fact that Troy is able to also play basketball on a regulation size court in his own backyard is a rather huge advantage and one that is afforded to a person of considerable wealth.  This is all layered on top of a reality where the students at this school are privileged with the funds to have a drama, sports and academic department that are fully funded and capable of pulling together full teams with the newest equipment and resources.  Without rambling further, High School Musical suffers most from its refusal to acknowledge the privilege within which it situations its narrative.

Key Scene:  ...ummm, there is a line that Coach Bolton delivers that is nearly inaudible, I guess it is my favorite part of the film.

Avoid this film, I watched it so you do not have to, instead, go watch a Busby Berkeley musical.  Also Zac Efron has the stupidest faces in this movie.

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