According to the screenwriting book I’m reading at the moment, the starting point for every great story is a protagonist (hero) that your audience can cheer for, and an antagonist (villain) that they can jeer at. Unfortunately, the techniques/tricks the author suggests to make a protagonist seem sympathetic strike me as rather trite and boring… and this problem was underlined for me yesterday when I watched High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2008) on TV, and found myself mentally tuning out whenever the purported leads were on-screen. ‘Whatshisname’ (Zac Efron) and ‘Whatshername’ (Vanessa Hudgens) are attractive, multi-talented, wealthy, privileged, popular, and deeply in love… and the only real “crisis” they face is when they are forced to choose between the many equally appealing and exciting post-graduation opportunities that are being offered to them. Feh. I know I’m supposed to give a hoot over whether they stay together or not, but… I just can’t. It’s a sad comment on my lack of engagement, that I seriously considered skipping all of Whatsername’s scenes entirely, despite finding Hudgens extremely beautiful. Of course, the book also warns against writing dialogue that is too “on the nose”, so I did get a chuckle out of the scene where Whatshisname repeatedly sang the line “I can’t choose, so confused!” to express his confusion, and inability to choose.
In the end, the only characters I really cared about were ‘Sharpay’ (Ashley Tisdale) and ‘Ryan’ (Lucas Grabeel), because they’re the only ones with any distinct personality. I always appreciated the fact that in the first film the antagonists weren’t just another generic “Queen Bee” cheerleader and her flunkies, but a ragingly theatrical diva and her equally theatrical twin brother. It made for a nice change of pace, and I’ve been rooting for them ever since. Sure, they’re even more privileged than their cookie-cutter classmates, but at least they own it, and enjoy it. How can you not love a girl with a personal parking space (complete with car wash facility), a bright pink, two-door locker, and her own secretly-evil English assistant (Jemma McKenzie-Brown)? Given a choice, I still think that Meredith from Bratz has the edge as far as loveable villains go (and much better songs to boot)… but it’s no surprise that out of all the HSM characters, Sharpay was the first to get her own spin-off story. She’s just sooo much funner than the racially-diverse-but-still-totally-generic girls-next-door that she has to share a school with… even if her storyline here was just a lame, watered-down All About Eve “homage”.
As for Ryan… well, I’d really love to see a sequel set around Juilliard, where he’s finally allowed to come out of the closet and find a nice boyfriend… while his loyal “beard”, ‘Kelsi’ (Olesya Rulin), falls for a gruff, grizzled tutor played by Mandy Patinkin (because Mandy Patinkin is AWESOME!!!) Incidentally, I was a little distracted by how cute Rulin looked in this movie… I can’t recall her character really standing out before, but she’s a regulation hottie here… especially with her glasses on. Yay for geeky girls!