4.10.08

camp rock

in which i basically essay on disney, the jonas brothers and their made-for-tv movies. sorry.

you know what i find really weird about camp rock? like, even more than high school musical? seriously, you ever need someone to discuss made-for-tv disney movies with then i'm your girl. anyway i'm going to write a mini essay here so ignore if you don't want my cultural analysis.

anyway. camp rock is a really weird film - this is the synopsis:

"Camp Rock," centers on a teen girl who desperately wants to spend her summer at a prestigious rock camp, but can only attend if she works in the kitchen as one of the cooks. When she's overheard singing - but not seen -- by a teen pop star at the camp, he is completely taken and sets out to find the girl behind the beautiful voice. But first she must confront her fears, step out of the kitchen and into the spotlight.

all the info i'd seen about it said that it was starring the jonas brothers, but it wasn't - it starred a girl whose name i don't know, and joe jonas was the romantic lead cast opposite her. the other two brothers had little more than cameo roles, to be honest. and none of them can act so it's not much of a problem.

anyway, my thing about this film, and the jonas brothers and the whole disney thing at the moment is that, like - they're trying to be smart and keep up with stuff while being really conservative. like, it's the disney channel and they're making films for a young audience, but they're aping adult - or at least older teenage - structures and plots to do this with. they did this with lady and the tramp by making it about dogs. but in camp rock they make it about teens - they're like, 15/16 and 18, which is the sort of age of characters in john hughes films and so on - but have them act way younger. they manage to create this kind of beatlesmania thing but keep it entirely sexless, it's like a weird version for 12 year olds. joe jonas flashes the hand with the purity ring on in the film. but what slays me is that they don't get rid of the tropes that rely on teenagers and famous people being dicks/"bad", immoral etc.

joe jonas's character, shane gray, is introduced to the film as "the bad boy" of american pop music on a television news show that the main character and her mum are watching. what are we told about him? we're told that he stormed out of a rehearsal or something. popstars get known as "bad boys"s for groupies, drugs, sex and stuff like that when it's extreme and indiscreet. if they storm out of a rehearsal they might have a jokey piece about it on ohnotheydidnt but it's definitely not enough to get someone on the television, not enough to get them a rep. he's not mariah.

anyway, so it also has all the tired old teen stuff where the main girl lies about who her mum is to get an in with a popular group. this is just the same plot that's used in every fucking teen/tween/kids flm/book/tv show/song. what's weird about it here is that after she's been with the group for about 5 minutes the audience knows that the leader of their group is unrealistically nasty. there's no mean girls stuff here, no funniness, it's just so lame and unsubtle that you can't believe the main character actually stays friends with her. they've cast someone wholesome and comfortable, you don't think for a second that she feels uncomfortable or insecure. they haven't cast someone who looks or acts vaguely normal, they want to cast someone beautiful (although she has a really weird smile - possibly the most uncomfortable thing about her, it's way too big for her face) but they cast someone who's like a real life version of a disney cartoon. only very young children will ever doubt her ability or character for a second. there's none of the real attempts at angst or doubt that you find in, say, shows like freaks and geeks or john hughes films or even, like, mean girls and ghost world. it's just like... they sort of smile and sing a song and it's going to be fine.

which brings me to the music. music is really, really important in teen films as a general element - i mean, it is to films anyway, they have to have a decent score, but i mean popular music. who doesn't think of the breakfast club and all that angst and insecurity when they hear don't you forget about me? teenagers love pop music as a rule, and in films it's played in their cars, at their parties, as they go on dates, have sex, have fights... you name it. obviously songs are important in musicals too, because, duh. this film attempts to mix the two genres (although replace 'tween' with 'tween', which i actually hate as a term but can only replace with pre-teen which takes longer to type). anyway, it's weird - they've gone for the pop music thing, not showtunes, and none of the songs are instead of diaogue - none of that weird bursting into song suddenly. it's a musical where the music is slotted in with an attempt at realism. they're at "camp rock", so they sing songs and perform routines all the time.

but the songs are all pretty... strange, considering the context. they've all been mixed over and over and produced so that you can tell they're not singing live. there's no way they're singing live. and you KNOW they're not singing live anyway but it seems a weird way for disney to break their shaky attempt at illusion and realism - by strangely produced songs and flawless routines without time for practice. and it also makes the characters that little more like cartoons, their self-assured smiles and never-faltering dances just moving them closer and closer to the strangely-present routines in high school musical, etc. i think it's weird since in this they don't actually SEEM to be aiming for musical fantasy land, but they're not prepared to have their characters falter or stumble at all, really, even when it looks like they do. the horrible mean girl does her last big routine at the "final jam" and does it basically flawlessly, despite her backing singers all quitting, and only breaks down and runs off right at the end when she sees her mum taking a phonecall at the back. and she saw her earlier on, but kept singing - she clearly wasn't actually experiencing any kind of emotion. there was no wobble in her carefully produced vocal. no mis-step in her weird dance with mirrors. it was like a music video, not a film. and for a bad song that wouldn't be worth listening to without the film to frame it. strange.

but mostly i'm weirded out by the haltering, wobbly attempts at romance. i don't think this was really meant as a romcom, more a kind of empowering DON'T LOSE YOURSELF type-thing. but they cast the jonas brothers, and they cast the most attractive and oldest of them, joe, as the male lead and had a subplot where he was searching for an anonymous girl he heard singing in secret on the first night - the ever-smiling heroine, of course, mitchie - and had all this stuff about him "searching for the girl with the voice". he made friends with mitchie without knowing she was the singer. he was mobbed by other girls on the camp. mitchie hears him singing his new "different" stuff (for what it's worth, i think it was meant to be honest and more rocky and less commercially viable, i just heard disney pop on acoustic guitar) and gets to talking to him about people being "real" around each other, and honest, and without ulterior motive. it's a common message in films like this, but i wonder if it actually ever makes any difference; the film is so clearly fake and unreal, like the paper-thin characters, that you're just like get on with it and to the kissing.

there is no kissing. there's no kissing in the first high school musical either, if i remember correctly. maybe in the second, i haven't seen it. but they seemed to be setting up for it - they obviously meant the shane/mitchie stuff to be hesitatingly romantic, when he talked to her about looking for the girl with the voice he teased her and asked if she was jealous - but after their duet, where he sings about about she's "the missing piece i need", they kind of stand there looking at each other and then go away. when they meet after all they do is say that they'll go for a canoe ride together - unless that was meant as some sexual reference (which, hilarious as that would be, i don't think it was) then they really are just going to go for a ride in a canoe. it's weirdly unsatisfying, as a teenage viewer - that's not what they would do, even if they were fairly stringent christians (christianity is never once mentioned in this film, by the way, but the purity rings etc are lurking there) and it's just... strange.

i guess largely it's bad because the acting is ridiculous. and the script is terrible. but i find the whole thing that disney are doing with it really weird - it's never allowed off script for long enough for it to be real or even just funny, properly - there's none of the creme brulee riffing that i found really funny in high school musical. it's not particularly knowing or tongue in cheek. it's sexless and like john hughes in a shitty alternate universe. but mostly i have beef with the way they take high school tropes and teenager worried and fears and give them to people who can't do anything convincing with them to tell kids that aren't there yet that it's great and fine, you and your friends will be mostly happy, talented, beautiful and pure. because they're all so pure. even the "bad boy" of pop music, wh never actually does anything bad except sleep in late. and i find it weird that they're using such old teenagers for it, and that they go along with it - even the purest teenagers can't be this good and talented all the time. surely everyone feels doubt sometimes, and it's not as easily resolved as disney seem to think.

2 comments:

jonathan said...

That was a really interesting and insightful analysis of a film that I would normally never ever think of watching. I'm not sure I would watch it now either, but your comments were thought-provoking and interesting. The film sounds like a very uneasy and unresolved combination of conflicting factors; peculiar, and even a little intriguing...

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