Anything that the Disney Channel deems worth doing is, naturally, also worth overdoing into oblivion, and the “Hannah Montana” show is no exception. I don’t really have to elaborate much upon the Hannah franchise, which is rather ubiquitous and entirely unavoidable when it comes to backpacks, lunchboxes, t-shirts, CDs, and countless other product tie-ins, all of which lend Hannah’s likeness to a stew of obnoxiousness. As a result, most everyone has an opinion of “Hannah Montana” whether or not they’ve ever bothered to ever turn on the show. As it happens, I am quite familiar with every episode of the show, that is, as chronic background noise to which my 8-year old has choreographed her own theme song dance routine. Now, what I’m about to say may cause severe disappointment because, let’s face it, you want me to bash this film like it’s Big Mouth Billy Bass (something I physically have done), a pop culture fad worthy only of shame and a hasty death. Unlike that stupid talking fish, however, I will begrudgingly concede that “Hannah Montana” annoys me far less than the vast majority of what plays on Disney Channel. In fact, when it comes down to it, “Hannah Montana” isn’t any more harmful to girls than, say, Superman and Batman comics are to boys. When one considers that a simple blond wig allows Miley to instantly and unquestionably present herself as Hannah to her adoring fans, Miley has a lot in common with Clark Kent and his dopey-ass glasses. Actually, an even better comparison may be found in Will Eisner’s modestly-dressed Lady Luck character, the socialite who used a hat and transparent veil to conceal her identity. After all, Miley/Hannah doesn’t dress in skintight or skimpy clothing in manner of most teen idols or even, say, Wonder Woman, Supergirl or any of the other so-called “empowering” female superheroes who, truthfully, are anything but inspiring.
As something of a comedy of errors, “Hannah Montana” follows the relatively ordinary (in television terms) life of teenage Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus), who attends public high school, does homework, and performs household chores. Miley’s alter-ego, however, is that of pop star Hannah. Her father and manager, Robby Ray (Billy Ray Cyrus), and smartass older brother, Jackson (the truly hilarious Jason Earles), do their best to keep Miley grounded. Aside from family, the only people that know about Miley’s alter ego are BFF Lilly (Emily Osment) and good buddy Oliver (Mitchel Musso, whose hair I wouldn’t wanna run into in either a dark or bright alley). It’s a fairly banter-driven and, at times, pretty fucking funny television show. While Billy Ray Cyrus performs the acting equivalent of a blow-up doll, daughter Miley has some amazingly deft comic timing. Whether or not the girl actually has any acting range is yet to be determined, but that’s not really the point. What I’m trying to say here is that “Hannah Montana” show ain’t nearly as bad as you’d imagine. Admittedly, I do take slight umbrage with the show’s brief incorporation of a “new Jake Ryan” character because, to paraphrase The Highlander, There Can Be Only One, bitches. Overall, however, the show and its stars are both likable and remarkably self-effacing. Hell, one episode even makes endless fun of Billy Ray’s “Achy Breaky Heart” and that damn mullet, and, really, it’s hard to argue with that sort of sweet justice.
Essentially, Hannah Montana: The Movie is just like the show but (you guessed it) bigger. The feature-length film format allows a bit more exploration of conflict and resolution and does a decent job at it, but all that really matters is that the television audience will find it satisfying. So, after three years of keeping a secret alter ego, Miley Stewart has grown to enjoy the life of a pop star, with all its swag and associated trappings, and she now wishes, “I wish I could be Hannah all the time.” Of course, her beleaguered publicist (Vanessa Williams) agrees, but Robby Ray sees trouble in his daughter’s increasingly entitled behavior, so he “hijacks” his daughter’s private jet by rerouting it to Tennessee for a little “Hannah Detox.” Naturally, Miley is not exactly thrilled at the prospect of spending two weeks in her (fictional) hometown, Crowley Corners, with Grandma Ruby (Margo Martindale) and down-home company. When Miley’s childhood buddy, Travis Brody (Lucas Till), enters the picture, things become far less dull, thanks to his winning smile and, um, cowboy ways. However, Miley’s serenity is disturbed by two unwanted complications: (1) A sleazy British tabloid writer, Oswald Granger (Peter Gunn), who has come to town in search of dirt on Hannah, and (2) An evil property developer, Mr. Bradley (Barry Bostwick), who aims to bulldoze the idyllic Crowley Corners into a mall-oriented hub of commerce. All of these factors together lead Miley to take unprecedented measures to keep her alter ego hidden and also to question whether “the best of both worlds” is a sustainable way of living.
Director Peter Chelsom largely stays true to fans of the television show, and parents will appreciate the wholesome, G-rated goodness of the film. Miley/Hannah stays fully clothed at all times, and her onscreen kiss with Travis is cleverly hidden through some deft camera work. Cinematography, particularly during the parts of the film that take place in rural Tennessee, is pretty spectacular and, honestly, more than the context (and, dare I say, the audience) deserves. Hell, this isn’t exactly Legends of the Fall with a justified need for sweeping landscapes, but it’s not a bad little film either. Yeah, there’s a bit too much of the country music for my tastes, and, honestly, I could have done without the Tyra Banks cameo, although her grating presence serves as a clear example of spoiled brattiness that Robby Ray judges as a good reason to split for Tennessee. If pressed to make a legitimate complaint here, I’d say that filmmakers should get their asses kicked for working in an anti-corporate theme while the film itself so obviously benefits from its own shameless commercialism. After all, Hannah Montana is a pop singer, so there are plenty of soundtracks to be sold, but I guess this sort of hypocrisy is just the nature of the cinematic beast. Hey wait, there is one major problem with this film… what’s up with the notion that Tennessee only becomes bearable after the entrance of a cute boy? Bitch, please. Fortunately, Travis appears to bathe more regularly than Twilight’s heartthrob vampire, so I guess his presence can’t be all that bad.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma and can be found at agentbedhead.com.