Perhaps the most telling scene in “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert” is the Y78-sponsored High Heel Derby. A mob of tweens’ fathers, duct-taped into high heels, race across a parking lot to win tickets to the show — and backstage passes to boot.
Certainly, at a steeper ticket price and a brisk 71 minutes, the film is an inevitable, not to mention highly profitable, product of the Disney machine. But this record of the concert sensation of 2007 serves as an exciting consolation prize for Hannah Montana fans and a godsend for their parents. Hannah Montana concert tickets were so highly coveted in the secondary market that the ticket brokers who most highly profited are now under investigation by several attorneys general. So, for the thousands, if not millions, of Hannah Montana fans who couldn’t attend these shows, this movie is as close as they’ll get — and the “Real-D” performances bring these fans that much closer.
The film itself is fairly formulaic, hitting concert film cliches such as the behind-the-scenes rehearsal process, the walking-down-a-hallway-to-the-stage set piece famously lampooned in “This Is Spinal Tap,” and the “drama” of an onstage error, but briefly enough that they don’t become irritating. Nevertheless, many details can be confusing for those not familiar with the Hannah Montanaverse. Briefly, here’s a beginners’ guide: Hannah Montana is the rock star alter ego of Miley Stewart, the main character of the Disney Channel’s “Hannah Montana.” Miley Cyrus, the real-life daughter of Billy Ray “Achy Breaky Heart” Cyrus, plays the dual character, and Billy Ray plays her character’s father. The second Hannah Montana “soundtrack” album featured songs performed by the character on the first disc and the real-life Miley Cyrus’s solo album on the second disc. The “Best of Both Worlds” tour is named after the TV show’s theme song, but the two worlds in the song are those of Hannah Montana and Miley Stewart, whereas the concert highlights Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus. Lost yet?
The first half of the film features Cyrus as Hannah Montana. Despite the time, money and attention paid to the multifaceted production, the in-character concert footage is merely workmanlike. Interspersed with interviews of (frequently costumed) fans singing, praising and screaming at the top of their lungs, the try-your-best and don’t-be-afraid-to-make-mistakes songs fail to inspire, no matter what corresponding clips from the Disney show play on the screens behind them.
When Cyrus returns as “herself,” however, she seems uncannily reinvigorated. The freedom she feels in her own skin, rather than that of a Disney property, is clear, from the dancing (which, while remaining fairly unsuggestive, actually allows for hip motion) to the costuming, set design and lyrics. It helps that the Miley Cyrus songs are, on the whole, better than the Hannah Montana ones (especially “See You Again”). But Cyrus clearly cares more about these songs, and feels less pressure from Disney in their execution.
The film is largely satisfying thanks to Cyrus’ tireless dedication to all aspects of her performance. Even as Hannah Montana, a smile permanently glued to her face, she calls out between songs, “I’ve got some friends here, so hey guys, wherever you are,” allowing for the possibility that any of the audience members could be those friends. The film shows the ever-focused Cyrus lip-syncing to others’ lyrics and to drumbeats between her lines. All the authenticity buttons are pressed for “I Miss You,” a song Cyrus wrote about her dead grandfather. Clutching a capo-ed acoustic guitar, she perches on a stool in a lone spotlight for the concert performance, while images of her grandfather play on the screens behind her. She explains, in a cutaway, her intentional lyrical ambiguity in the song, so that it could also be applied to a parental or romantic relationship.
Such savviness leads into the film’s bizarre climax. Cyrus elides herself with her characters in order to perform “The Best of Both Worlds,” the show’s theme song and the biggest Hannah Montana hit, but which can never be performed in character because its lyrics expose the secret identity on which the show’s plot is built. Seemingly as Miley Stewart, Cyrus sings to and dances with a video-screen Hannah Montana until the last of the 3D confetti and pyrotechnics fire off and she announces to the audience, “See y’all soon.”
At 20 cents a minute, “Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert” is a pricey ticket, except in comparison to the exorbitant amounts paid to see the actual concert. But for those with any desire to see the film, it can’t possibly disappoint. Even at the relatively late screening I caught, two out of six audience members danced in the aisles. It’s a short and sweet mega-concert that doesn’t cater to boomer nostalgia. Who can argue with that?