There is something a bit makeshift about Glee: The 3D Concert Movie, a film designed for a two-week run that was put together in just six weeks after being shot in East Rutherford, N.J., last June. The awkwardness is part of the movie's charm.
One critic complained that the concert tour felt like "a glorified high-school talent show." It's a good description of the film, which is really about a chance to watch familiar friends - the very talented and the ordinary - get up onstage and perform.
Here, the cast members of the television show pretend to be their fictional characters even in backstage interviews that are conducted, off-camera, by the show's producer and major creative force, Ryan Murphy.
For all its artifice, the concert's theme is also painfully sincere.
On the contrary, without the sarcastic undercutting of of Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), Glee is almost evangelical in its message of social inclusiveness. Throughout the film, we cut away to outside the arena where various young fans express their love for their favourite Glee characters and share how the show has changed their lives.
The film focuses on three fans' stories: a cheerleader, who is a little person and is crowned her school's prom queen; a young gay man recalling his humiliating outing and a young woman diagnosed with Asperger's. They all explain why the show is important to them.
At the centre of it, of course, is the healing unguent of music - chart-toppers, pop classics and show tunes - that span generations of musical change and a spectrum of genres, put through the Glee musical processor into catchy, easy-on-the-ears arrangements.
As much processing and auto-tuning as the TV show employs, the best singers prove on stage that they're the real deal. Chris Colfer, who plays gay teen Kurt Hummel, is the most sociologically interesting character on the show.
Though his comedic chops don't get much chance to shine in the concert, he sings like a high-spirited bird. His one solo number is The Beatles's I Wanna Hold Your Hand (he copies the slow, T.V .Carpio version from Across the Universe) and he shares some effortless octave jumping with Lea Michele on Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again, a duet made famous by Barbar Streisand and Judy Garland.
Michele, on her own, also knocks out a Broadway-sized version of Don't Rain on My Parade on My Parade, Streisand's hit from Funny Girl, and turns Katy Perry's pop hit, Firework, into a power ballad.
The other big voice on Glee belongs to Amber Riley (Mercedes on the show), whose rendition of Aretha Franklin's 1968 hit Ain't No Way does justice to the Queen of Soul. She also does a foot-stomping duet with Naya Rivera on Ike and Tina Turner's River Deep, Mountain High and, generally, is the core voice on the big ensemble numbers.
For fans who wanted to exercise their own lungs, the opportunity came during the three songs by Darren Criss, who was introduced in the show's second season as Blaine, Kurt's love interest and the soloist with the rival show choir, The Warblers.
Criss and his choreographed and harmonizing Warblers (all clad in private-school uniforms), began with his breakthrough song, a stripped-down version Katy Perry's Teenage Dream, followed by Paul McCartney's Silly Love Songs and Pink's Raise Your Glass. Criss's intensity and strutting physicality feels both wholesome and sexual, which is the key to Glee's success as much as its social tolerance message.
Some other song choices ( Jessie's Girl, Safety Dance) fall in the "why bother?" category, though when tunes sound stale it's always refreshing to look to dancer Heather Morris (aka Glee's Brittany), her long limbs popping out and back as though they were on springs. (Regrettably, the 3-D is used to little effect here, beyond permitting a ticket markup.)
The big ensemble finale on Queen's secular hymn, Somebody To Love, with Michele and Riley providing the vocal pillars, is big, corny and generous. A high-school talent show, no doubt, but, at its best, one well worth glorifying.
Glee: The 3D Concert Movie
- Directed by Kevin Tancharoen
- Starring: Darren Criss, Chris Colfer, Lea Michele, Amber Riley, Cory Monteith, Heather Morris and Naya Rivera
Editor's note: The original version of this story contained errors. This version has been corrected.