The next morning, Kelsi is staring glumly at the callback sheet, which has a new announcement to the effect that callbacks have been rescheduled as Sharpay requested. All our non-Evans main characters walk in a nearby door. When Troy and Gabriella notice the expression on their petite pianist’s face, they look at the board too…and are instantly unhappy. “Callbacks the same time as the game?!” says Troy. “And the scholastic decathlon,” adds Gabriella.
Wait a minute! Are you seriously telling me that Sharpay actually knew anything about anything academic? Are you also seriously telling me that somebody scheduled a major-sport championship game for a Friday afternoon? Again, the parents won’t be able to…
You know what? Skip it. I feel like a wartime radar operator that’s just worked three straight duty shifts during an air raid. Too many targets, brain turning to jelly. Hard as I’ve worked, I know I’ve missed some. Ah, well. That’s what the comments section is for.
Chad is of the opinion that Darbus is responsible for the switch, but Kelsi tells them it’s actually Ryan and Sharpay. There’s lots of blame to go around, kids. Embrace the healing power of “and.” The important thing now is to decide what to do about this skullduggery. A sensible person, at this juncture, would point out that probably the best course of action is to directly appeal to Ms. Darbus about the unfairness of the late change. She has the unilateral power to reset the situation, after all. If that fails, they can then go to the principal, where they have a lot of weapons in their arsenal — Kelsi’s testimony, Gabriella and Taylor’s reputations, and the principal’s apparent love for Troy and the basketball team. They would have a real shot at forcing a fair audition, maybe even in front of someone who’s not in Sharpay’s sparkle-studded back pocket.
I thought of this plan the first time I saw the movie. It’s such an obvious and realistic solution, in fact, that I also knew there was no way the characters would think of it. From one angle, that makes sense. You want your lead characters to solve problems on their own, rather than kick them up the ladder. Besides, part of what strikes us as intuitively wrong about Sharpay’s course of action is that she was able to manipulate someone else into doing her dirty work, rather than having to put her own time and effort on the line. Still, you could always have the kids appeal to authority…and fail. That would have the double benefit of complicating their situation, and giving them more reason to go all Charles Bronson. But something tells me they’ll just jump right to the vigilante justice.
And so it goes, as Chad’s first response is to threaten physical violence against the Evans siblings. (SEIZE THE INFIDEL!) But Troy, of all people, reins him in. Apparently Mr. Basketball has brainstormed a complete plan in the last few seconds, and it’s going to require the cooperation of everyone. My guess is, it’s going to be a ridiculous scheme that could fail at any one of several points but will somehow succeed anyway. What else is new?
By the way, has anyone else noticed that not once, but twice in the last two minutes of screentime, one of the characters has just conjured a plan out of thin air? One that not only shouldn’t work, yet does — but shouldn’t have been thought of, yet was? (Well, I’m projecting forward when evaluating Troy’s unarticulated plan, but let’s be honest. We all know I’m right.) These sudden improbable bursts of inspiration might not have been necessary if Barsocchini could plot. Or if he hadn’t wasted so much time tooling around instead of starting and developing the story.
Hey, don’t look at me. He repeated himself ad nauseam for ages. I’m just getting even.
Cut to a busy East High hallway, an indeterminate number of days later. Not like it matters…when was the last time this movie cared about letting us know how much time was passing between scenes? The important thing is, this is the day. You know, the big day. We are alerted to this by a helpful series of titles that pop up one line at a time. “Game Day / Callback Day / Scholastic Decathlon Day / HELP!” Okay, I admit that’s kind of cute.
But before we get down to business, our main characters have to show us that they’ve learned their lesson, and they’re all on the same team now, Wildcats ready to support each other through thick and thin. The basketball boys surprise the scholastic decathlon girls in homeroom with one of Chef Zeke’s creations. He calls it a pi pie. But it’s clearly a pi cake. That could have been a cute enough pun in itself. So, Zeke can’t even tell the difference between major categories of baked goods. Yes, I’m sure he has a stellar career in front of him. Bam!
The girls, of course, also have a surprise for the boys…a big whiteboard with some basic Newtonian physics equations meant to represent a basketball shot. The boys try to be polite, but are clearly underwhelmed. Until, that is, the girls rotate the board to reveal a big handmade poster of a wildcat dunking a basketball. That, the boys can appreciate! ‘Cause all that school stuff, you know, it’s too hard for the Y-chromosome impaired. Thank goodness the girls can drop down to their level. Then Gabriella and Taylor pelt the boys with plush basketballs. I’m going into sugar shock.
Of course, we can’t exclude anyone — even the villains. Participation trophies for all! So the basketball team also has a special treat for Sharpay and Ryan. One by one, the boys unveil the t-shirts underneath their track suits. Together, the shirts spell out “GO DRAMA CLUB!” (Troy is the exclamation point. Not kidding.) Sharpay seems flattered. Ms. Darbus comments drily that “we Wildcats are in for an interesting afternoon.” God, I hope so, lady. It hasn’t been that great so far. And Ryan? Well, Ryan, who is the co-president of the Drama Club, does not seem to know how to spell or pronounce the word “drama.” It’s at this point that I began to wonder whether Ryan originally went to a more special school, from which he was removed for the sole purpose of helping to advance his sister’s theatrical ambitions.
Fast forward to ten past three, as school lets out for the day. The hallways fill with an excited stream of students, all wearing school colors, holding banners, waving foam fingers, and generally displaying the sort of school spirit that hasn’t actually existed since 1962. The stands in the gym are already packed, the drumline is just warming up, and the cheerleaders are…well, they’re looking a little bit like fairly well-trained dancers who have been told to put on costumes and run through a choreographed routine that looks a little too good to be authentic.
In the locker room, Troy is dressing for the game when he’s interrupted by his dad. And for the first time in a while — maybe all movie — these two really seem like father and son. They both banter a little bit, and confess to some nerves before the biggest game of their season. But as it turns out, Coach Bolton has a reason for stopping by. There’s a message he has to deliver:
COACH B: “What I want is for you to have fun. I know all about the pressure. And probably too much of it has come from me.”
TROY: [grimaces politely, as if to say No shit!]
COACH B: “‘Cause what I really want is to see my son having the time of his life playing the game we both love. You give me that, and I will sleep with a smile on my face no matter how the score comes out.”
Okay. Taken in isolation, this is a sweet moment that hits exactly the right notes. But where in the hell did this come from? And I mean that literally. What was the motivation for this comment at this moment? Coach Bolton has been riding his son’s butt the whole movie. He has to know what the pressure from a championship game feels like, because he’s experienced it himself. But he hasn’t been acting to relieve the pressure on Troy. Instead, as he admits, he’s helped pile it higher. And he never said anything before, even when he saw clear evidence that Troy was crumbling under stress. Remember those missed shots in the backyard? Yeah. So does he. But he did nothing.
So what changed Coach Dad’s mind, and made him decide to drop the Coach for a minute to just be Dad? This nice father-son scene seems ridiculously unmotivated when you read it in the larger context of the movie to date. Or — and this is something I just thought of, as I was writing the previous sentence — was this part of some plan? Wind Troy up tighter than a watchspring for weeks before the game, and then yank out his ratchet right beforehand so he goes in with the pressure off? I doubt Coach Bolton is that kind of monster. But then why didn’t he do something earlier? On the available evidence, his parenting skills are definitely in question.
Anyway, the basketball team is about to take the floor for their game against West High. Oh wow, that’s original. I can’t wait for the sequel, High School Musical: West High Story. Across the school, a much smaller crowd (including Gabriella’s mother) has gathered to watch the scholastic decathlon, also against a team from West High. So I guess New Mexico has a grand total of two good high schools? Oh, and the competitors are wearing lab coats, because they’re super-sciency. Meanwhile, preparations for the final callbacks are well underway in the auditorium. Ms. Darbus is welcoming people, Kelsi is warming up, and Sharpay and Ryan are going through a series of vocal exercises that must be seen to be disbelieved. For a movie that hasn’t been able to execute even one storyline at a time well, juggling three simultaneously seems a little ambitious.
However, the cross-cutting actually does help here, increasing both pace and audience interest. I’m not going to give much credit for that, though. That’s basic theory you learn in Intro to Film, long before they let you pick up one of the school’s cameras. Since it would be really hard to move my review back and forth as quickly as the movie is able to shift, I’ll just summarize each individual development in total, until Troy’s (ahem) “brilliant” plan reveals itself.
The game: Troy leads the Wildcats onto the floor, to a moderate amount of cheers. The stands are…not exactly packed. Fewer students than I would have guessed, and only a couple of parents. Hey, maybe next time you should hold your championship game in the evening. Just saying. After warmups, the teams take the floor, East High’s boys filing past “the coveted championship trophy.” There are a few hugs between opposing players, and then the referee throws the ball up for the opening tip. The early moments of the game seem tight, with Troy in the thick of play…and nowhere near the auditorium.
The decathlon: Gabriella’s turn has come to shine. She and her competitor are given five minutes to solve some sort of problem that involves a lot of chemistry equations. Thrill to the whiteboard action! Marvel at how quickly the dry-erase markers fly! Even the movie sees fit to cut away from this until they’re almost done. Gabi solves the problem with only a few seconds left, and a moderator comes over to examine her answer before dramatically pointing at the East High team. The people in the crowd clap and squeal, as the team members hug in celebration. And now we should all know why nobody makes movies about scholastic decathlons. Some things just look silly when dramatized.
The callbacks: Of course, we begin with a pretentious speech on the artistic spirit from Ms. Darbus. Then she calls on Sharpay and Ryan to begin their audition. It’s a Latin-style number called “Bop to the Top,” and…is this supposed to be from Kelsi’s show? Because it doesn’t seem to fit at all with what we heard before. It’s all about succeeding at any cost (including, but not limited to, working hard) and how important it is to be the best. That sounds more like a description of Sharpay and Ryan’s attitudes than something from Twinkle Towne. Regardless, the singing is decent enough, but the dancing is not all that great. None of which stops Ms. Darbus from sitting in her seat doing the choreography along with the teens — a sure sign either that she’s helped them prepare, or that they’ve done this bit before. In the background, Kelsi surreptitiously checks someone else’s watch.
And now…are you ready for The Plan? This is the moment we’ve all waited four seasons to see! We’ll finally find out how and why Cavil managed to convince the other Cylons to…oh, no, wait. Sorry. Wrong plan. But don’t worry. This one will probably be just as yanked out of someone’s stanky crevice as that one was, though at least we won’t have to wait six years to find it out.
Cut to the decathlon. It’s a few minutes past 3:30. Taylor opens up her laptop, types in a few lines of computer code, and sends it through the network. Mere seconds later, in the gym, the scoreboard starts going wonky and the overhead lights start flashing on and off. The refs stop the game. Troy looks around and smiles, before Chad comes up to him and sends him on his way. Coach Bolton watches as his son runs toward the locker room.
Meanwhile, Taylor has just finished sending some more code. As she closes her laptop, some mysterious liquid sitting in a beaker on a nearby hot plate (SCIENCE!) starts to boil, and the people in the room are soon retching from a strong smell. The entire room is evacuated. And that’s not the only Dunkirk reenactment taking place on campus right now. Back at the basketball game, the principal asks everyone to leave the gym while they resolve the technical difficulties. No sooner is the request out of his mouth than the entire Wildcats basketball team decamps en masse, run-walking after their recently-departed captain in a manner that is absolutely not suspicious in any way, shape, or form, nosiree bob.
So this is the brilliant plan? To stop the championship game and the decathlon by deliberately sabotaging school equipment, creating a delay just long enough for Troy and Gabriella to Barry Allen their way over to the auditorium and compete in the callbacks? Wow. That’s actually…a really terrible idea. Here are just some of the reasons why:
- What if Taylor can’t execute the plan? Maybe she can’t input the right commands fast enough, or maybe she has trouble locating the gymnasium scoreboard on the school server (would that even be hooked up to the school server?), or maybe there’s not a fortuitous beaker of something-or-other that can make the decathlon room smell like Bangkok in August. Regardless, there are several variables in play here, and it’s literally all on her to flawlessly execute this scheme in a timely manner. There’s no backup if she fails.
- Isn’t this activity, at least in theory, traceable to Taylor’s laptop? What if some official — maybe from the school, maybe from the tournament or the decathlon — gets curious about what happened? And wouldn’t simultaneous malfunctions in two separate locations, both affecting competitions between the same two rival high schools, be sufficient grounds to demand an investigation? Even leaving aside any legal consequences for hacking, I presume there are punishments for messing with school equipment at East High. Taylor could end up in very hot water. Worse yet, one or both Wildcat teams might be disqualified. Not that that matters, I guess, as long as Troy and Gabriella get a chance to follow their dreams.
- This action actually makes our heroes contrast unfavorably with Sharpay…and I hope I don’t have to explain why your heroes should never be less sympathetic than your villain. East High’s resident diva is a sneaky and underhanded little minx, but she worked within the letter of the rules (if not their spirit) to switch the course of things to her advantage. The Wildcats’ response is to go completely outside the rules — and the law. So it’s down to this: morality is situational. It’s okay to fight unfairness with unfairness, as long as you’re the good guys. What a wonderful lesson to teach our young audience!
- Building on that, aren’t there other solutions to this problem? I mentioned a couple of them before: going to Ms. Darbus, and going to the principal. If those don’t work, though, there’s another way forward that no one seems to have considered. Why don’t Troy and Gabriella each skip part of their event? Perhaps Gabi could handle the first decathlon challenge, and then excuse herself and head for the auditorium. Troy could already be there, having agreed to sit out the first quarter of the game. They could sing, and then go back to their respective competitions. Why not? Oh, right. Because kids should be able to do whatever they want, consequences and sacrifices be damned. Another great lesson.
It doesn’t bother me so much that none of these perfectly legitimate points found their way into the movie. What really bothers me is that I bet none of them was even thought of. You see, Sharpay “cheated.”* So using story logic (at least the juvenile version on display here), the only proper thing to do is to pay her back in her own coin, by cheating better. They send one of yours to the nurse’s office, you send one of theirs to the principal. That’s the Albuquerque Way.
* (By putting quote marks around “cheated” I mean, of course, that Sharpay did something that is technically not out of bounds, but that clearly helps her out at the expense of her competitors. This doesn’t fit the definition of “cheating” in any dictionary…except maybe Donald Trump’s. Most people would just call it good gamesmanship. What Taylor and the Wildcats did in response, however, is absolutely a form of cheating. But again, they’re the heroes, so they’ll get away with it.)
Back to the movie. Sharpay and Ryan are just wrapping up their routine in the auditorium, which means either that it was the longest audition ever or that these three sequences were actually not taking place simultaneously. Given how poorly this movie has handled the passage of time, my money’s on the latter. They take their bows, and…that’s one couple down.
Before I move on, there is one nice character touch here. Sharpay and Ryan finish their routine by climbing up a ladder. (To the top! Cause, “Bop to the Top!” Get it?) But rather than allow her brother to reach the same level as she does, Sharpay literally bops him on the head so that he takes a step down. (Bop! There it is again! Oh, it is to laugh!) See, Sharpay has to make sure that no one’s star shines as brightly as hers…including her brother’s. It’s not only a good visual illustration of her character and their relationship, but it sets up a dynamic between the Evans siblings that will actually come back to hurt Sharpay in future movies. If only there were more moments like it.
Ms. Darbus calls for Troy and Gabriella, but of course they’re not there yet. Kelsi pleads for more time, but the drama teacher blows her off with a line about the theater waiting for no one. You mean, like you didn’t loiter to hear Troy and Gabriella sing the first time? If the theater really never waited for anyone, lady, you wouldn’t be having callbacks right now! Kelsi, upset with the decision, dorks her way offstage. (That’s really the only way I can describe it. You’ll know why when you see it.) Sharpay and Ryan exchange a conspiratorial look as Ms. Darbus brings the audition to a close.
And that’s the movie, folks. Our heroes have failed. Thanks for coming. Don’t forget to tip —
Wait a minute. What’s that in the distance?
Troy and Gabriella come dashing down the aisles, begging Ms. Darbus for a chance to compete. For some reason, Troy is wearing a different-color tracksuit than before. Was this done just so they could put the hero in white? Ms. Darbus starts up with her “Rules are rules” shtick, but is stopped mid-lecture (thank you!) as all the people who were attending the other events start flooding into the auditorium. So now everyone is going to see our lovebirds compete.
The soundtrack starts rising gently, wanting you to think of this as a Big Moment. And I agree. It is. There is now no way that Troy and Gabriella can expect to escape suspicion for the delay of their competitions, and that suspicion will quite probably lead to consequences. Or it would, if the laws of reality worked the same at East High as they do everywhere else. More importantly, though, it means that the climax is nearly upon us. Soon the movie will be over. Yay!
Sharpay, too blinded by the large audience to realize that events are turning against her, offers to audition again. But Ms. Darbus stands firm. Callbacks are closed. Even if she wanted to reopen them, Troy and Gabriella have no music. Well, until Kelsi comes dashing back onstage, ready to play. Sharpay tries to intimidate her, but this time the mouse stands up to the bleached-blonde lioness. And so, for no reason at all, Ms. Darbus decides to allow the callbacks to proceed. Why?! If they’re over, they’re over. What difference should an audience and a pianist make to your thought process? Sharpay’s mouth is literally hanging open at what has just happened, and this time at least, I’m on her side. You got screwed, kid. Not that you didn’t deserve it, but still…you got screwed.
Actually, Sharpay has another good point here. Shouldn’t she and Ryan also get their opportunity to wow the newly-arrived throng? If they could win over a crowd composed at least partly of people predisposed to love their competition, wouldn’t that speak to their skills? Shouldn’t every student get an even chance? Isn’t that a long and honorable tradition in the theater? Didn’t we hear those very words out of our drama teacher’s own mouth less than three-quarters of an hour ago?!
Remember, kids, rules are rules. It’s just that what they mean depends on how Ms. Darbus is feeling that day. God save you if you’re at her mercy while she’s having a hot flash.
So the moment of truth is upon us. Troy nods at Kelsi, who starts to play. The intro bars pass, and then — nothing. No singing. Gabriella is frozen center-stage, staring at the audience. Troy motions to Kelsi to stop, walks over to his partner, and calms her down. He tells her to “look at me, right at me…like the first time we sang together.” It’s a nice line.
Too bad that the first time you sang together, she was facing away from you as she started to sing, you moron. And you were walking away from her. But no, this is totally a good time to bring up your previous boorish behavior. This wouldn’t lift my spirits, is what I’m trying to say. But it lifts Gabi’s, for some reason. So whatever.
Troy motions to Kelsi, who starts playing again. And this time, the lighting goes down as a backdrop falls into place behind Troy and Gabriella. I guess the stagehands were all psychic, and knew that Take One wasn’t going anywhere. The intro reaches its conclusion, and with both teens looking at each other, Troy launches into the first lines of the —
Whu-huh?! The first lines belonged to Troy?! So why didn’t he start singing a few seconds ago? Why did he just leave Gabriella to twist in the wind in front of a jury of her peers?
Shut UP, Sheldon! This is not the time!
Let me break away from the review one final time for a last snark. Obviously, Troy did not start singing for the same reason that the lighting change and backdrop only appeared on the second run-through…namely, for the convenience of the movie’s makers. In the real world, the backdrop and lighting would have come down the first time. But then either they would have to be raised and re-lowered for the second run-through, or they would have to stay down. Either one would spoil Kenny Ortega’s visuals. So realism was sacrificed for mood.
Similarly, if Troy starts singing, then that means the number is underway. But Peter Barsocchini needed to remind us one last time about Gabriella’s crippling stage fright, because if she sings with no difficulty, he has completely failed to pay off that plot point. (I agree with this logic, actually. It’s something he has to address.) If Troy is forced into what is basically a false start when Gabi doesn’t sing, and has to start over again, it might test the audience’s patience. So Troy just doesn’t sing the first time, reassures Gabriella, and then starts properly the second time.
Here’s the problem, though. I shouldn’t have to resort to real-world explanations for what happens in a work of fiction. Everything I need to understand the movie should already be in there. And if it isn’t…if what happens doesn’t make sense within the world of the story…I argue that the audience has license to invent an explanation that works. Now, the less charitable I’m feeling, the sillier those explanations tend to get — hence my crack about psychic stagehands a minute ago. But I can’t even use that line for Troy, because if he were actually psychic, at least half the things that happen in this movie couldn’t actually happen. So I’ll have to come up with something else. Here it is:
Troy was suffering from stage fright too…but he couldn’t admit it, not in front of all his friends. Then they might have doubts about how he would perform when the game restarts. So, knowing that Gabriella had a worse case of stage fright than he did, he deliberately missed his intro and then stepped in to save her. Counting on a poor innocent girl’s panic to shield you from the public revelations of your own fear? What a pathetic excuse for a man you’ll be, Troy Bolton.
Seriously, Gabi, I wouldn’t pursue this guy any further. If Troy can pull off this trick of shifting his responsibilities to you, right now, he’ll try it a hundred more times. For your anniversary date, he’ll show up late, then pretend he was there ahead of schedule and went off in search of you. It will be your fault every time he misses practice. (Actually, he’s already pulled that one on you, hasn’t he? My explanation holds!) You may well end up cleaning his room and doing his homework. And I predict your relationship will come to a nasty, tear-stained end on the night of your senior prom, when he angrily breaks up with you — because not only did you not pick him up on time, and not only did you not get the stretch limo he wanted, you even forgot to buy him a boutonniere.
There. See what fun we can have with your script, Peter, when you don’t write it well?
Speaking of not being written well, the lyrics to Troy and Gabriella’s song are very disjointed. It’s called “Breaking Free,” I assume because it represents the writers breaking free of the necessity to connect thoughts and feelings in any sort of logical manner. But the highlights of the lyrics are your typical paean to self-actualization: we’re more than you see when you look at us; this is something we have to do; we find our strength in each other; yadda yadda yadda. The crowd is fully behind them by the start of the second refrain, clapping and grinning. Taylor and Chad in particular seem blown away by the beauty of what they almost destroyed — I mean, of the wonderful performance being given by their very good friends. Whom they almost destroyed.
Come, I will be honest with you…the manipulation of this sequence does work for me, even if only partially. It manages to work, in fact, despite my knowledge of how and why it’s manipulating me. That’s the sign of well-executed material. The tune is catchy, and the performances are good — not just serviceable, good. So it’s very easy to find yourself carried along with the music, buying into the characters and the feeling.
And again, this isn’t just me. At one point toward the end of the song, you can catch Ryan nodding in approval offstage. Whether that was just Lucas Grabeel not knowing he was on camera, or whether it was a deliberate acting choice with the knowledge that Ryan would be seen at that one single instant, it’s a neat moment. Even Ryan is surrendering to the worthiness of his opponents. Can there be any doubt, at that point, that Troy and Gabriella have won?
Yet for every moment it gets right, this number also manages to get one wrong. The choreography here has been crafted to feel as though it were spontaneous and natural — but it’s ironically too perfect for that effect to take hold. The showier choreography of the Siblings Evans feels more like what we would actually see here. Kelsi’s kicking her piano bench back makes the whole shot with her and our two leads seem utterly false, even before Olesya Rulin starts “singing along.” (By the way, where is that drum we hear on the soundtrack? It’s nowhere near the piano, I can tell you that.)
Coach Bolton and Ms. Montez both show up mid-performance, and I know what we’re supposed to think about is how they’re seeing their children in a new light…but I kind of want to skip to the scene where the kids are having to explain how they were even able to audition. Troy’s dad, in particular, should have a reaction worth watching. Ms. Darbus throwing away her clipboard and clapping along just reminds me, again, how flexible she is on her seemingly inflexible rules. I guess the only real rule is that the audience is right, huh?
And I know it’s not fair to High School Musical, but I can’t help but find some sick humor in the moment when Vanessa Hudgens disrobes (literally — she’s wearing her lab coat when the scene starts) just as she walks off camera. Let’s be clear: what happened to her is not funny, and it’s never acceptable to publish compromising pictures of someone without their consent. But as a meta-moment, it works in exactly the worst and most damaging way.
Anyway, the number concludes. Our two lovebirds, breathing heavily, look into each other’s faces. (Pull your mind out of the gutter.) Then the crowd breaks into a fresh round of cheers. We don’t need to be told who will be playing the roles of Arnold and Minnie in Twinkle Towne. Oh, yeah. Had you forgotten those were the stakes here? Just wanted to remind you how silly this all is. As the characters react in joy and pleasure, Troy gives Gabriella a chaste little peck on the cheek. Aww.
Then Kelsi points awkwardly offstage, and a stagehand raises the backdrop to reveal…the conclusion to the championship game? What?! So we’re now leaning on the fourth wall for our transitions?
Oh, the hell with it. I don’t care anymore. We have seven minutes of movie left, and at least three plotlines to wrap up. Plus, each of our characters needs a nice little closing moment. And there’s going to be a big show-stopping number that will eat up a huge chunk of that time. Lean on the fourth wall all you like, guys. Just release me from my misery.
Where were we? Right, the championship game. So, it’s the closing seconds, and West High is up by one with possession. But then Troy comes flying in from the backcourt to pick off a pass. He turns, leads his team upcourt, fakes right, breaks left (groan), and passes the ball. But we all know whose hands it will be in for the last shot, right? Troy runs by Chad setting a pick, receives the ball, and drills a jumpshot as the final buzzer sounds. So East High wins the championship. How totally unexpected. No, really. I’ve got chills. They’re multiplyin’.
The team mobs their captain on the court, and Coach Bolton runs over with the trophy so he can give it to his son. A victorious Troy is hoisted onto his teammates’ shoulders, the trophy aloft, as everyone breaks into “What team?” As celebrations go, it’s about the most clichéd you can imagine. And in case you’re confused as to what just happened, you can listen to the announcer. “East High has won the championship! Your East High Wildcats are champions! Congratulations, East High!” Truly gripping dialogue. Remember, Shakespeare got paid to write that.
A bunch of moments are about to happen in quick succession, and I don’t think I can place them into easy paragraphs while still talking about how stupid they are. Do you mind if I just list them out? Thanks. You guys have been a really terrific audience, very understanding. If Ken ever lets me do this again, I hope you’ll have enough sense to be elsewhere.
- Troy and his dad share a big hug and say how proud they are of each other. Yeah, son, you managed to win the big game even though you blew off your team for some chica loca. Good work! Aw, thanks Dad, and thanks for piling on the pressure and making my life a living nightmare. The hunk of brass and wood we just got makes it all worthwhile.
- Darbus appears to say, “Bravo!” Coach Bolton returns a “Brava!” which leaves her thrilled. Hey, remember when these two didn’t like each other? Yeah, me too. Hey, remember when they had several scenes where they worked through their problems in order to earn this moment? Yeah, me neither. Is this all the resolution you’ll get? Well, duh.
- Gabriella sneaks up behind Troy, and — seriously? She’s wearing a red dress now? When did she change? And why? Oh, and for the six of you who may have been wondering, Gabriella’s decathlon team also tasted victory today. It’s just that they did it offscreen, because let’s be honest, none of you cared. Our two lovebirds lean in for a kiss, but then find a game ball thrust between them. Chadus interruptus.
- Speaking of Chad, he gathers up Taylor in his skinny Neanderthal arms and basically tells her she’s going on a date with him. Taylor, who for most of the movie derided Chad (and all basketball players) as being dumb and worthless, grins stupidly and then finds Gabriella to celebrate. Because that’s totally in character. I guess all Miss Brainiac needed was a Real Man to make her feel like a woman, huh? Suck on that, Gloria Steinem! Fish do ride bikes!
- Sharpay comes striding in to say that she’ll be understudying our heroine, and tells Gabriella to “break a leg.” For a fleeting moment, visions of a malevolent Sharpay prowling the catwalks with a sandbag ran through my head. And I grinned, because she’d do that. Oh, yeah, she would. Then Sharpay — yes, the Queen B herself! — smiles, explains to Gabriella “that means good luck,” and walks off. ..are you kidding me with this?! When did Sharpay become sweet and generous?! Is Rod Serling about to come on camera?
- And of course, our minor characters have to have some moments too. Zeke baked Sharpay some cookies, but she has already recovered from her brief personality-altering stroke and turns them down. Troy hands Kelsi the game ball and tells her she deserves it. Shouldn’t Taylor be getting that? I mean, she’s the biggest reason you and Gabriella managed to win everything today! Finally, Jason sneaks up behind Kelsi, takes off her dorky bowler, and helps her make a basket. Again, why is Jason even here? He’s done nothing!
Well, alright. Enough with the character crap. The drumline has kicked into action now, so I guess it’s time for our last song — “We’re All in This Together.” As the fans in the stands start getting their groove on, Troy and Gabriella wind their way through crowds of suitably multi-ethnic kids from all different social cliques, before meeting each other in the midst of the throng. (Not many identifiable Latinos, though, especially considering this is set in Albuquerque. Maybe next time, Disney shouldn’t shoot in Utah.) I know I’m probably supposed to be thinking how this is a perfect visual summary of the whole movie. Instead, I’m just wondering when Troy found time to put on his white tracksuit again. Did everyone just hold their kum-ba-ya-yas in while he went backstage?
Then all our main kids, plus a bunch of dancers, gather in organized lines on court for a big choreographed routine. They start singing about how they’re all stars, and all they have to do to achieve their dreams is work with each other. (My dream is for this movie to end. Work with me, Wildcats!) So all kids are stars, huh? But apparently, with apologies to George Orwell, some are starrier than others. Only our main kids get singled out for special treatment…and not even all of those, as Chad and Taylor get about five seconds to do a couple dance moves. I guess only the white kids, plus Gabriella the coconut, were important enough to rate solos.
Oh, and about those solos? I could break them down stanza by stanza, but it’s late in this review, and I’m exhausted. So I’ll restrain myself to my two least favorite. The first is Gabriella’s. I am not kidding when I say that it is just a regurgitation of pop-philosophy crap, comprised of metaphysical and moral assertions unsupported by any reasoning or thought. Judge for yourself. Remember as you read, this is what some kids now think genius looks and sounds like:
Everyone is special in their own way / We make each other strong /
We’re not the same, we’re different in a good way / Together’s where we belong
The first phrase is total crap, as Dash would happily tell you. The second phrase is only true sometimes; in fact, too many differences in a community can lead to total instability. See also: Iraq. Next we have a trivally true assertion coupled with a lie. We’re not all different in a good way, you mindless little waif. You know some of the people who are different from me? Ted Bundy. Timothy McVeigh. Kim Kardashian. And as far as I’m concerned, none of those people…or for that matter, any of you…belong together with me. So shut your cakehole, missy. (Excuse me. I meant, shut your piehole. Or pi-hole. Whichever.)
But as bad as that is, it stills take second place to what Sharpay gets foisted on her. She makes her entrance by walking through a human tunnel topped by Ryan. No, I’m not kidding. (Why are the villains even in the celebratory final number anyway?) And as she struts onto the floor, she sings:
We’ve arrived because we stuck together / Champions one and all
Can’t pile on Barsocchini for this one. He didn’t write the music or lyrics. So, let me go to the end credits…hmm…Matthew Gerrard and Robbie Nevil. Okay, then. Excuse me, sirs? Did you even read the freakin’ script?! Sharpay didn’t stick together with anyone — not even her own brother, as we just saw a few minutes ago at the callbacks. She has spent the whole running time faking and manipulating her way through every situation. And she is not a champion. She and her brother lost. How did these lyrics manage to find their way into the mouth of the one character who, above all others, is the most ill-suited to sing them?
Damn. I mean, I’ve heard of retcons…I’m a sci-fi/fantasy fan, so you learn to live with them. But most creators at least have the courtesy to wait for the next installment!
Just so there is no confusion here: I hate this song. I hate it more than Tarheels hate Blue Devils. More than Booth hated Lincoln. More than the EU hates national sovereignty and responsible budgeting. The lyrics are nonsensical babble of the worst kind; where they can be interpreted, they are either hopelessly banal or woefully untrue. But they seep into your head anyway, because the music is so damn catchy and the dancing is simplistic but energetic. Normally I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories, but if someone told me that Disney was using this song to brainwash kids into looking at the world in a new way…well, I’d hear out the tin-foil-hat brigade, at least.
We are finally at the end. With packed stands and waving banners behind them, our heroes (and villains) dance for the cameras with Gabriella providing counterpoint to their melody. They put their arms around each other, as if for a group bow — Troy seems very happy with this state of affairs, as it leaves him sandwiched between Gabriella and Sharpay. Then as the credits roll, they pair up and disappear into the crowd…our two leads with each other (aww), the siblings (gross), the black kids (of course), Jason and Kelsi (a pairing that was literally just established, probably for this purpose), and finally Zeke and Martha.
Wait, you’re saying…if you’re still conscious, that is. Who’s Martha? Again, she’s the heavyset nerd who loves hip-hop dance. She had a few solo lines during “Stick to the Status Quo,” but has never been named in dialogue. Yet her character is one of only three to get listed by their full name in the credits, Troy and Gabriella being the other two. So she must be crucially important to this world. And apparently, Martha decides that walking off with Zeke isn’t good enough for her last bow, as a few seconds later she slips back into the crowd for a featured dance.
As we reach the end of the credits, Ms. Darbus shares a two-step with the mascot, and then leads a conga line that spontaneously forms behind her. If you look closely, you’ll spot a few West High cheerleaders in the crowd, dancing happily with everyone else. I guess they’re too stupid to realize why everyone is celebrating. Or maybe they’re not going to let the fact that their team lost stand in the way of a good time. This is probably the most happening place in New Mexico right now.
Finally (augh!), we have a post-credits scene. Zeke is standing on the court amidst the debris of victory when Sharpay comes barging into the gym. She’s had one of his cookies after all, and she loves them. Wait. Of all the dangling threads littered through this movie, Peter, this is the one you want to weave into a nice little bow at the end? Sharpay comes running through some balloons and almost tackles Zeke, who isn’t trying too hard to get away. “I might even make you a crème brulee,” he says, and then mugs for the camera as we fade out.
What are you going to make for me, Zeke? After everything you guys put me through, I demand my weight in brownies as compensation. Better get baking, pal. You’ll be a while.