Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fallin' on the floor for STANDING OVATION!

In one of my earliest blog entries, I dabbled on the subject of loveably misbegotten films...the TROLL 2s, the HELLO DOWN THEREs...movies that confound conventional adjectives because they don't meet the artistic or intellectual standard of "good" but deliver more genuine pleasure than most films that do reach that arbitrary measure. The bearish Dave White is bullish on this type of film, what he has branded "Awful is the New Awesome," and if you consider that said adjective literally means "full of awe," he is spot-on in that description, because audiences in the right frame of mind, myself included, indeed sit in awe, wondering if what we are witnessing on screen is really happening. And in my still-controversial gobspit on THE ROOM, I delved into the appeal further, proclaiming that an audience's true enjoyment of these movies cannot be based merely in feeling superior to them, but in fact in feeling sympathetic with them, meshing the open flaws of the film to our own life's previously best-laid plans in a moment of familial love. The message to the filmmaker is you dun goofed up, and the consequences of me watching your movie will never be the same, but I can't deny the fact that I like you, right now, I like you!"

And right now, I can't deny the fact that I am currently in the midst of a ridiculously ebullient love affair with such a film: STANDING OVATION, an independently-produced East Coast-lensed spectacle attempting to be the tweener intersection of HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL and "JERSEY SHORE." In a summer that has given us all manner of underwhelming and mediocre movies, and only a few legitimately brilliant ones, this shiny, scrappy, and occasionally strident film is the wild card I didn't even know I was looking for. In its short theatrical run, I have seen it twice, and if I can drag any more brave friends along while it's still onscreen, I'll return again; the as-yet unreleased DVD is as good as on my shelf when it comes out. And yes, as that preambling (and prerambling) opening paragraph indicates, most of my enjoyment is in that dreaded "meta" zone of irony that is abused so much in pop culture you could mistake it for Luka on the second floor, the kind of reaction that, to invoke legitimate irony, does get explored at one part of this movie, which concerns me a touch because I don't want any of the nice kids who worked on this film to think that I'm laughing at least not in any kind of mean way that would have easily upset me when I was their age.

Let's make this clear, STANDING OVATION is not "a movie for the whole family to enjoy" as the marketing would have you believe. The majority of families who have grown accustomed to the clean, professional, and star-laden output of Walden Media for the last decade will quickly grow impatient with the abrasively low-budgeted staging on display here. And those progressive hipster parents - the kind that decry anything associated with Disney, forbid sweets, and try to accelerate their offspring's development of righteous anger by playing Consolidated in the nursery - well they'll be downright horrified at what they see as a celebration of prefab pop and the quest for shallow stardom. So unless you live in one of those households where mom, dad, and the kids pop popcorn and sit in the living room to enjoy an evening of reading out loud from the latest issue of McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, this movie is probably not for you.

But if, like me, you find the Monkees more interesting than the Beatles, you miss Crystal Pepsi because you liked the taste, and feel a wonderful tingle every time you hear Bela Lugosi's "Home? I have no home!" speech from BRIDE OF THE MONSTER, this is a movie made for you. In the grand tradition of THE APPLE and THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS MOVIE, to paraphrase from the "Stimutacs" episode of "SEALAB 2021," STANDING OVATION is a movie that makes me feel like a koala bear hacked up a rainbow in my brain...and to me, that is a pleasant thing!

STANDING OVATION, which opened in over 600 theatres on July 16th, the day before my birthday, and plummeted to 72 matinee-only screenings in its second week, is having a hard time finding any love in the marketplace, either from published critics...

And oh, the music...generic and empty, with derivative music and lyrics consisting of nothing but baseless, idiotic self-assertion. One group sings that they're "one in a million." Another sings that they're superstars. Then a little girl sings about how she's going to be a star.
Everybody's going to be a star, and could you imagine what a nightmare it would be if everybody who wants to be a star actually became a star? You wouldn't be able to walk from your front door to the car without hordes of people following you, singing and singing and singing...
It would be a nightmare. It would be even worse than this movie. But until that dreaded day, "Standing Ovation" must hold pride of place.
– Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

Standing Ovation could barely muster a golf clap from an audience. Unless you're a female senior citizen. The Kelinworth Film Production's debut flick will simply not work for anyone outside of the above mentioned and possibly a five year old. Everyone between the ages of six and sixty-five, wait for this to show on the Disney channel. In the afternoon. On Saturday. When it's raining. – Joe Belcastro, Tampa Movie Examiner

For us grinchy adults out there without children to sedate, the whole thing feels slightly less like a movie than like the filmed record of a mutiny at a juvie talent agency - Adam Markovitz, Entertainment Weekly

...or from IMDb commenters...

"Ugly kids movie...only a pedophile could love"

"Should be called 'How to Make a Narcissist.'"

"How the HECK did this get a theatrical release?"

...or even from moviegoers themselves. In a wide release of 623 screens, STANDING OVATION's opening weekend total of $343,125 (or $551 per screen) was the worst opening since TRANSYLMANIA in December of 2009, and ranks 5th in all-time worst openings since 1982. Despite the best of booster press in its location cities of Atlantic City, Cape May County, and Delaware County, PA, as well as national talk show plugs from its producer, venerated actor James Brolin, STANDING OVATION was unable to find the family audience it aspired to. And I suspect that the kids and parents who busted their buns and boiled coffee to make this film may not be 100% thrilled to hear that one of the few large contingents that's energetically trying to support it also seems to be regarding it as a post-millenial PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.

I would like to assure all parties that this is not an accurate assessment. While there are still remnants of the initial Harry & Michael Medved school of snotty dismissal mingling with the too-cool-for-school detachment dinguses (or is that dingae?) that may watch this movie to mock it, everyone I've talked to who has seen STANDING OVATION knows its faults, and openly embraces it regardless. It's a stance that maverick San Francisco film programmer Jesse Hawthorne Ficks calls "neo-sincerity", which he describes as as " know you can make fun of something if you want to; but, you don't really need to." It's that kind of lopsided love that fuels the cults that embrace TROLL 2, or TEEN WITCH, or any of the films that despite their perceived disposability, have somehow kept their fanbase years after their shelf life should have expired.

So sure, I could make jokes about the numerous plot threads about gambling addiction and unrequited crushes and parental absence that are introduced and then abandoned, or how the 5 Ovations are supposed to be the working-class heroes in contrast to the spoiled Wiggies yet they seem to have a budget for back-up dancers and costumes that exceeds their so-called rich rivals, or how the character of Joei Badalucci engages in stereotypes so egregious that I half-expected Joseph Columbo to rise from the grave to file a posthumous complaint from the Italian-American Civil Rights League, or that Alanna Wannabe's bratty antics are not so much adorable as more likely to inspire a response similar to Strong Bad's reaction to 'Cute Little Girl from Sit-Com Sings Patriotic Song', or the fact this story relies on so many deus ex machinae that it becomes a veritable deus ex officina...but see, those are the very things I love about the movie! Its daffy committment to what is clearly a blinkered and hyperactive 12-year-old fantasy worldview made me a little daffy too. And when left to contemplate whether to sit through the bloated emptiness of THE LAST AIRBENDER or the pained seriousness of TWILIGHT: ECLIPSE or the autopilot blandness of KNIGHT AND DAY or the calculated familiarity of THE KARATE KID...a movie like STANDING OVATION that's riddled with wrong yet smiling all the way through it is a lot more entertaining.

STANDING OVATION will never be regarded on the same level playing field as the gleaming Disney franchises to which it wants to, dare I say, Step Up. But like many determined knockoffs of bigger films (PIRANHA to JAWS, KING FRAT to ANIMAL HOUSE, LOVE AND A .45 to PULP FICTION), it is most definitely destined for cult movie status; even Brian Orndorff and Roger Moore, while both panning the film, acknowledge it's kook appeal and camp potential. There is already talk in a couple cities of reviving this in midnight screenings...when of course, the kids would be in bed and the grown-ups would have all the fun. Personally, I would love to see this become the teenybopper training film for THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW: book a theatre on Saturday mornings, let the tweener set learn how to shadow-cast and make funny callbacks, get them prepared for the sexier midnight movies when they get older. Who knows, maybe even some serious hard-partiers and ravers would still be awake from the night before to come watch as well and make it a hip destination.

Now then, in the off chance any of the kids from this movie are reading this essay:

First off, congratulations! This may not be the rave review you wanted to read in reward for your work, but what matters is you worked hard and whether people like it or hate it, you did it, and years from now you'll always be able to look back at it and think of all the fun you had. And as I am predicting, a lot of us will be watching and having fun too. Now some of you are probably also going to be looking at a decade's worth of ribbing and schoolyard taunting in the interim, so I'm hoping you've started building up a sense of humor about that. It might be cold comfort when the jokes get mean, but keep in mind that you did something big, and most people who feel like being nasty to you never will. You should read some of the rude things people said about me when I did "BEAT THE GEEKS" years ago!

And since I keep talking about this thing called "irony" and how it relates to your movie, I suggest you watch a really great documentary called BEST WORST MOVIE which was made by a former child actor about a movie he starred in, TROLL 2, that also didn't get the success or acclaim he hoped for, but earned him fans that years after the fact, are some of the best people he's ever known. I also suggest reading an essay by my friend and fellow blogger Witney Seibold about one of the other movies I compared yours to, THE APPLE, a musical that started me on my love of films like yours, and if nothing else, you can always point your friends to when they give you grief and say, "You think my movie is strange?"

Finally, I hear rumblings that you all may do a sequel. DO EET!!! Do it fast! Make it so fast we can see it this Christmas, where it will stand out in opposition to all the serious stodgy awards-season bait that will be in theatres. After all, who wants to watch another English broad in a corset suffering when STANDING OVATION II: WIGGIE WEVENGE is playing next door?

Oh yeah, and when you make that sequel, hire these boys:


  1. It's very cool that you wrote about this movie, because I had no idea it had been released. Daniel Griffith and I were out at Stewart Raffill's house about a year and a half ago shooting an interview with him and when we were finished he showed us a 10-minute preview of STANDING OVATION. Raffill's such a nice guy and he seemed so enthusiastic about the project that I almost didn't want to watch it for fear that I would have to look him in the eye afterwards and lie, but I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw and very happy that I could tell him in all honestly that it looked like a lot of fun. One clip we saw used "River Deep, Mountain High," and this was a day or two after the guilty verdict in the Phil Spector trial was announced. I said to Raffill, "This is a Phil Spector song." He did a double take and replied, "Oh, that's riiiiiiight. I didn't even think of that! Great timing, huh?" I'm glad that STANDING OVATION got into 600 theaters at least, because I recall Raffill saying there were no plans for a theatrical release and that it would probably go direct to DVD. I may have missed it at my local theater -- I'm checking Moviefone now and I see the closest theater is in Queens, and there's only one showing a day.

  2. I remember seeing a commercial for it at The A-Team (ahem), and everyone was sitting there, kind of baffled at the whole thing, wondeirng if it was a Wal-Mart commercial or a Disney Channel movie or something, and then they announced the release date, and some guy kind of chuckled, and then the friend of my sister who came with us, she was just laughing, and everyone else shifted around uncomfortably. It was very unpleasant.

    Anyone, I'll maybe see this on Netflix or something, but I'll probably be way too mean about it.

  3. Those boys in Oakland are the real deal; someone should hire them & lower the saccharine in our movies, my teeth hurt.

  4. Marc, it's hard to express how much I appreciate this piece. I think your attitude toward the movie is precisely the correct one (and not just because I share it). "Neo-sincerity," described as "you know you can make fun of something if you want to; but, you don't really need to," is a perfect prism through which to see this film. And as if to prove the point, by some great confluence of the stars I was able to see Best Worst Movie, Troll 2 and Standing Ovation all in the same week, and all proved enjoyable in their own specific ways. But most of all I appreciated your zeroing-in on the sincerity that infuses this movie, which is, no doubt about it, a genuine oddity. (Sincerity is a quality all three movies share.) It's far easier to tap into our superiority to movies like this than it is to understand the humanity that's also in there swimming around with the ineptitude and inappropriate behavior and, yes, the desire to entertain. You've done a great job here doing just that in representing why a movie like Standing Ovation might appeal to people who weren't dragged to it by their bratty kids.

    And speaking of which, I dragged my (not bratty) kid to it Saturday-- her very first midnight movie-- and she loved it. Maybe in a different way than I did, but she loved it just the same. In a more perfect world, a Saturday matinee cult would indeed coalesce around this crazy, hey-kids-let's-make-a-movie movie. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. And by the way, Joei Badalucci gave one of my favorite performances of the year! Speaking as a completely insensitive Italian, what's not to love?!

    Again, thanks for this wonderful piece.