I’ll say it up front so get all your eyeball rolling and laughter out now – – I like Hannah Montana. I watch the tv series. It’s fun. It’s enjoyable and it helps me to keep being a kid at heart. But, HANNAH MONTANA THE MOVIE, I simply adore. This is not a kid’s movie or a teen/tween movie. This is a family movie with something every generation, every member of a family can relate to in some capacity. It strikes a chord of home and hearth that just touches the heart…complete with an annoying brother, supportive friend, loving father and extended family and an irrepressible teen who just happens to have an alter ego as a rock superstar. I said it just the other week with super heroes and the same applies here – how many of you can honestly say you haven’t dreamt of having a secret identity and for all the girls out there, one that let’s you play dress up and let’s pretend and spend tons and tons of money on shoes and clothes? Where can I sign up!!
For those of you who have been hiding under a rock or visiting another planet, Hannah Montana is the hottest thing to hit the world of teens and tweens since David Cassidy, Donny Osmond, The Beatles and The Monkees simultaneously arrived on the scene back in the 60’s and 70’s. Hannah Montana is none other than Miley Cyrus, daughter of country star and achy breaky heart man, Billy Ray Cyrus. The premise of Hannah Montana is simple. Miley Cyrus plays Miley Stewart, a home grown little girl from Tennessee who is the apple of her daddy’s eye. Billy Ray Cyrus plays her father, Robbie Ray Stewart. And Miley just happens to be filled with talent, energy, enthusiasm and loves to sing. Only problem is, it’s pretty hard to have the quiet life of Miley if you become successful and your face is plastered on every magazine cover on the planet. So, how do you solve the problem? Simple, with the help of a blonde wig and pink make-up case, transform yourself into Hannah Montana. One girl, two lives. And you can just imagine the adventures, trouble and fun that can cause. But what happens when daddy’s little girl gets too big for her britches and forgets who she really is and where she came from? This is where HANNAH MONTANA THE MOVIE picks up the story.
Thanks to her fame, Hannah is consuming Miley. More concerned with the “free stuff” and perks that being Hannah provides her, including fighting over a pair of shoes with Tyra Banks which appears all over the internet and tv, Miley is blowing off the responsibilities of Miley, something that doesn’t sit too well with her dad. Scheduled to be at home to see her brother Jackson off to college, Miley is nowhere to be found. Hannah of course is seen on a Beverly Hills shopping spree with her publicist. Promising her best friend Lilly (who knows the secret of Hannah and keeps it) that she’ll be at the Santa Monica Pier for Lilly’s Sweet 16 party, as Hannah, Miley loses track of time and in a panic has her limo rush her to the pier, only to forget that she’s in Hannah garb, blonde wig and all, which immediately takes all the attention away from Lilly, ruining her party. Adding insult to injury, Miley is supposed to fly home to Tennessee with her father for her Grandma Ruby’s birthday but Miley’s publicist has another idea – have Miley appear at an awards show in New York. Well, as with all dads, Robbie Ray has a breaking point and he’s reached his with Miley. It’s time she remembers who she is and comes back to Earth.
Boarding Hannah Montana’s private jet with the intention of going to New York, Miley gets a rude awakening when the doors open and she finds herself staring at the tall green grass, open fields and blue skies of Tennessee. Angry at being tricked, and even more upset at not being in New York as Hannah, Miley fights tooth and nail to be miserable and convince her father- and herself – that being Hannah all the time is the best thing for her. But one’s roots have a way of creeping into the heart at the strangest times, especially when the town and people you love are in jeopardy, and when you may have found a first love of your own, forcing Miley to look into her own heart for some hard answers to some tough questions.
Miley Cyrus is Miley Stewart/Hannah Montana. This is not a performance. This is Miley as both girls living in both worlds. Her exuberance and vibrancy on screen is infectious and entertaining. Amazingly, despite her fame, she is grounded and very much a 16 year old girl, something that conveys beautifully in this film where her characters are given more wings and space to grow and shine. What is key here is that for the first time we get to see Miley actually in her home surroundings (the Cyrus farm where Miley lived until age 13 is only 6 miles from where the film is shot and where Miley stayed during filming) lending to an ease and comfort on screen that is missing in the tv show. According to director Peter Chelsom, “ a lot of it was about redialing and retuning and bringing her down and down. Then my task was to let her feel that she wasn’t restricted by it. So, I would say after take 2, that was great Miley. On the next take I have one note, more Miley…and only you know [who is Miley].” One of the most endearing parts of Miley Cyrus and the film is her relationship with Billy Ray Cyrus and his character Robby Ray. Given the real life father-daughter relationship, on screen the envelope is able to be pushed further in terms of emotion, interaction and reactions.
As for Billy Ray, anyone that saw the series “Doc” knows that he is a fine actor and here, although playing second fiddle to his daughter, his talent shines through as an actor and as a father. Interestingly, we finally get to see Robby Ray enter into his own adult relationship and the struggles of balancing that with the dual life Hannah Montana forces the entire family to live. Perhaps the best part of Billy Ray in this film is that he gets to perform both with his band and with Miley. Two very different songs. Two very different personas. And each welcome and likeable.
And of course, series regulars Jason Earles, Emily Osment, Mitchel Musso and Moises Arias join in the fun as Jackson, Lilly, Oliver and Rico, and are all as entertaining as ever.
Joining in the Hannah Montana frenzy for the first time is Vanessa Williams as Hannah’s publicist Vita. She is delicious as a PR diva. And look out for Barry Bostwick who steps in as a land developer out to eradicate the town of Crowley Corners and build a shopping mall. Always solid and funny, Bostwick steps it up a notch as we get to see him dance for the first time since doing the Time Warp in “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” His version of the Hoedown Throwdown aka Miley’s Macarena will have you in stitches. Also new to the HM family is Lucas Till who steps in as Miley’s childhood friend, Travis Brody, now all grown up with stars in his eyes for Miley. Till exudes a down home warmth that any father would welcome in a boy courting his daughter.
Written by Dan Berendsen, the story is a continuation of the tv series but on a larger scale. Already having well defined characters, Berendsen expands on the formula giving more depth not only to the storyline but to the characters, providing a visually detailed backstory to Hannah Montana/Miley Stewart that actually crafts the character as she moves from being a “kid” to being a 17 year old with love, fame, fortune and family all at her fingertips but needing to be prioritized.
For Peter Chelsom, “this is the first time in years I got to play again.” As a director, he brings a freshness and open air to the film and what he calls “life imitating art” by lensing in the Cyrus family hometown. The expansive and beauteous photography of DP David Hennings adds not only to the openness of the film but to the story and the characters.
The most challenging aspect of the film for Chelsom was the musical aspect and particularly with an open air concert at the end of the film as well as the “Hoedown Throwdown” sequence with extensive choreography. Chelsom’s finest balancing act was keeping the film from becoming a musical. Believing that music is like a “second language” in the South in America, Chelsom made the songs an integral part of the film and used as a tool to advance the story. “I felt like I had a license for a father and daughter to sit on the top of a hillside and express themselves as she writes a song for dad.” With every song custom written for the film, “It was a long road [picking songs].
It’s all integrated. It’s all organic. You can’t tell which came first, the film or the song.” A fine example is a duet by the Cyruses called “Butterfly Fly Away.” To set up the song lyrics, earlier in the film, dialogue is written to remind Miley that her father always called her caterpillar. Likewise, Billy Ray’s song “Back to Tennessee” (which I expect to go gold). Surprising to most Hannah fans will be a new version of her signature song, “Best of Both Worlds” which Chelsom describes as “similar to telling where Superman came from.” But fear not, it’s as catchy and fun as the original.
For Chelsom, he wanted to send a message about “the importance of family. Life’s a climb but the view is great. It’s all about the work. The feeling that families will advise their kids and their kids will feel like getting their heads down and working as opposed to looking up and seeing the reward or the celebrity.” He succeeds beautifully.
HANNAH MONTANA THE MOVIE, it’s just a good feeling.
Hannah Montana/Miley Stewart – Miley Cyrus
Robby Ray Stewart – Billy Ray Cyrus
Lilly – Emily Osment
Jackson Stewart – Jason Earles
Travis Brody – Lucas Till
Directed by Peter Chelsom. Written by Dan Berendsen.