After the splendor that was U2 3D, it is hard to imagine that a fluffy puff Disney star with a sing-song name and a hit TV show could conjure up a comparable IMAX 3-D experience, but she does. Sort of. Unlike U2 3D, wherein a seasoned rock band kicked out the jam in a most spiritual way, Best of Both Worlds manages to fall somewhere between irresistible moneymaking opportunity and a sweetly sincere kiddie rock show. The film has a lot going for it in terms of pop appeal, but all its best moments are due to charismatic Miley Cyrus, for whom the term “cute as a button” was invented.
Best of Both Worlds is essentially a consolation prize for those who couldn’t shell out seven grand to see Cyrus’ top-grossing live show last year. For 85 minutes, Miley and her television alter ego, fictional pop sensation Hannah Montana, perform to an arena filled with screaming tweenage girls and their parents. In her Montana persona, Cyrus wears a blonde wig and bops around in sparkly leggings singing with impassioned zeal to the roar of the crowd. When the brown haired Cyrus emerges, she’s also attired in sparkly pink clothes, but she strums a guitar and sings a song to her “pappy” (grandfather, for us non- Tennesseans). In both roles, Cyrus demonstrates a fine singing voice and she appears to be actually singing, which impresses me more than it probably should.
Cut in with the arena performances is footage of Cyrus rehearsing for the tour with choreographer Kenny Ortega (High School Musical), sitting on the tour bus with her mom, making rapid-fire costume changes, and crouching in the lift that will bring her up into the arena. These informal scenes are favorable to Cyrus, who comes off as professional and game for anything. Father Billy Ray of “Achy Breaky Heart” fame makes an appearance in the clips, though a duet the pair is set up to perform together thankfully never materializes during the concert. The film is generally well paced and exciting, only dropping the ball when sub-standard opening act the Jonas Brothers, who are in essence a more ethnic Hanson, appear to sing a drippy ballad. Blech, 3-D technology is used aggressively here, with guitar picks flying at the audience and fingers waggling in our faces. It could all be tiring but Cyrus is such an engaging performer that all cheesiness is forgiven when she breaks out in her toothsome smile.
The songbook is rather thin and all the tunes start to blend together after a while, even though Cyrus’ band is incredibly tight. The songs are respectable manufactured pop, with musical passages lifted shamelessly old tunes like “Kids in America”, something that definitely won’t bug Cyrus’ fan base as they wouldn’t know Kim Wilde from Kim Possible. With titles like “I Got Nerve”, "Nobody's Perfect, "We Got The Party", the message here is very clear. Cyrus/Montana brings the wholesome party, celebrating individuality with messages of hope and self-esteem. The entire proposition at the heart of Hannah Montana is the notion that a girl can have it all. She can be successful beyond her wildest dreams and live the life a normal gal, experiencing the regular problems that come therewith. Basically any girl, anywhere, could be a Hannah Montana, a proposition that Cyrus pulls it off with her sheer guilelessness. As a wish fulfillment fantasy, that’s nice right? Well, yes. But there is still a problem with Best of Both Worlds that is often present in music films with female players.
The “girl power” message communicated by Cyrus is one we’ve heard before, several times over. Because it is such a catchy slogan, it can easily be distilled into consumer shill. Don’t forget: Hannah Montana is a blockbuster franchise, as is evidenced by the hordes of awkward teen girls with braces and stringy hair sporting brand new concert t-shirts and blonde wigs. What is really being taught here? The feminist warm fuzzies also wear off when it appears Cyrus’ band is composed entirely of men, with the exception of the back up singers. This is an all too common cliché that communicates the tired supposition that girls can either sing for a band or watch a band; they can never be in the band. If you think that these cultural limitations are lost on a 12 year, you severely underestimate the sponge-like brain of the pre-teen girl.
It goes without saying that Miley Cyrus is 15 years old and cannot be expected to control the means of production that have her propelled her to stardom. It certainly is good to see girls singing along with Cyrus to take-charge lyrics like “It’s girl’s night, it’s alright!” However, by the end of Best of Both Worlds I found myself hoping that Cyrus would go a bit farther than shades of feminism wrapped in cozy conventions, but it is Disney, after all. Maybe someday, after Miley has bought her first Ramones record, she’ll give kid pop the kiss off and start her own all girl rock ‘n’ roll band. She’ll then go screeching across the country, spreading the gospel of girl wherever she plays. Now that’ll be a show worth seven grand