Hoedown throwdown

A search in my Gmail reveals 225 references to “miley.” It includes the time my friend Mike accurately predicted in 2007: “She should fix her teeth. I’m sure she will eventually when she goes sexpot;” and the time when my brother chatted “NO!” in shock after I asked, “did you see the miley lesbo pix?” (Sometimes I like to Gchat like I’m a pop-up ad.)

I have messages comparing her to Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato (in FMK style, of course), dissecting her Twitter and determining whether the “best friend Leslie” of “See You Again” fame is real. She is.

The reason “Hannah Montana” works and the reason Cyrus can carry a movie to the second-biggest Easter weekend opening in history is because she is as much a conversation piece as she is a celebrity. Her voice has an annoying twang, her songs aren’t particularly good, she isn’t a stellar actress or anything — but somehow she’s stumbled upon this essence that is both thoroughly unique and fun to analyze at length. There is no one else who could star in this movie.

To review “Hannah Montana: The Movie” is kind of to miss the point — any film featuring an extended dance scene entitled “Hoedown Throwdown” is not desperate for critical acclaim. Of course the plot has holes and of course the dialogue can be painful (“Sooo not over it”), but no moviegoer, regardless of pop cultural preferences, can suppress a smile. The movie is everything it should be: amusing, corny, silly and weirdly moving. The rare CinemaScore grade of A is no surprise.

The film smartly centers on issues of identity, which are also at the core of the “Hannah Montana” television series and Cyrus’ real life.

The confounding identity of Miley Cyrus is one of her most intriguing (and, surprisingly, relatable) features. She was born Destiny Hope Cyrus. She changed her name to Miley Cyrus. In the show, she plays a character named Miley Stewart — who is your everyday high schooler, except that Miley Stewart has a secret double life as the blonde-wigged international pop star Hannah Montana. To add to this confusion, Miley Cyrus’ life now has nothing in common with Miley Stewart’s. She lives the life of Hannah Montana 24/7.

This all raises many interesting philosophical questions. At a Miley Cyrus concert, does she have to wear a wig to sing Hannah Montana songs? And in the world of the show, what do Hannah Montana fans think the lyrics of “Best of Both Worlds” are about?

The plot kicks into gear after Hannah gets in a terrific fight with Tyra Banks over a pair of shoes. Miley’s dad (played by Cyrus’ real-life father) tricks her into flying to her grandmother’s in Crowley, Tennessee, instead of an award show in New York in order to reestablish her balanced identity. “Hannah is everything to me,” Miley protests. “That’s the problem,” her dad retorts. The whole sequence sadly resonates with her real life and makes you wish Cyrus was receiving this level of parenting, as well.

Obviously the film isn’t too heavy, though. There are fun cameos by Rascal Flatts and Taylor Swift, over-the-top musical performances by Miley and Hannah and gags aplenty (a fat man rolling down a hill into a mud pile, Miley’s brother falling down from a ladder into a prize-winning squash, and so on).

If there is one fault to the movie, it is Cyrus’ inability to sell the more emotional scenes. The break-up/make-up and emotional arguments fall flat — a slow-motion sojourn around a revolving door stands out in this regard. It makes you worry whether Cyrus can handle her next role starring in “The Last Song,” a Nicholas Sparks screenplay much in line with his “The Notebook” and “A Walk to Remember.”

That is not to say the movie doesn’t have heart, though. At the film’s climax, Miley performs her single “The Climb” in which she croons, “There’s always going to be another mountain/I’m always gonna wanna make it move.” As Miley hit the high note, the 5-year-old girl next to me urged her mother to stop crying.

And that’s why the film — and the “Hannah Montana” franchise at large — works. Even if she dates an inappropriately old underwear model, even if her teeth protrude from her mouth in an ugly way when she’s not speaking, even if she only hits half the notes she tries to sing, she’s so sincere and smiles so big that you can’t help but be taken in. You can tell that she is aware she doesn’t have the voice to pull off “The Climb,” but that doesn’t keep her from belting her heart out. She commits completely and transparently to everything she does, and that’s what makes her so likable and approachable.

It’s a nice escape to just chill with Miley for a few hours in the theater. As my brother Gchatted me at the height of the “See You Again” phenomenon in November 2007: “It must be so cool to be Leslie.”

Comments