She's had the best of both worlds, this teen counterpart of Clark Kent and Superman. By day, she's brunette Miley Stewart, just another stuttering, accident-prone high school student. By night, under a Barbie-blond wig, she's Hannah Montana, strutting pop princess, exuberant monarch of the have-it-all club, teen auxiliary.
Hannah Montana: The Movie may spell the end of both world(s) as Miley/Hannah knows them.
For many years, Miley Cyrus has purveyed this pop-smart/pop-tart split personality on the Disney series Hannah Montana and on a concert tour immortalized in last year's Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour movie. The implicit message of her upbeat alter ego and down-home secret self is, yay, girls, you can be superstudent and superstar. And supernice.
But in the enjoyable new film for tweens and their parents, Miley Stewart has not just an identity crisis but a full-tilt meltdown. It's becoming increasingly hard to downshift from Hannah, Beverly Hills celebrat, to Miley, Tennessee-bred teen. When Hannah tangles with supermodel Tyra Banks over a pair of Donald Pliner heels in a Rodeo Drive boutique, it's clear that the teen has lost her inner Miley, the gal who plays acoustic guitar, rides horses, and listens to Dad.
Is Miley a pop-star impersonator suffering from attitude sickness, a grounded gal who knows that family and community come first? Can this split personality be reconciled?
Dad (Billy Ray Cyrus, the real-life Miley's real-life, achy-breaky Dad, as Billy Ray Stewart) orders movie Miley into "Hannah detox," taking her home to Tennessee in the bosom of her family. At first, Miley looks as out of place as Paris Hilton in an episode of The Simple Life, mugging in overalls and braids. Naturally, Dad worries that you can take the girl out of Beverly Hills, but not the Beverly Hills out of the girl.
When Miley sees Travis (Lucas Till), a cute blond ranch hand, Tennessee starts looking better and better.
Though Miley's character doesn't satisfyingly reconcile her alter ego with inner self, she does so musically in "Hoedown Throwdown," a novelty song that grafts an urban beat onto country roots. "Pop it, Lock It, Polka Dot It!" go the lyrics of this preposterous, peppy number designed to make jaws drop and toes tap.
Perhaps more pertinent to the flimsy story line is the daddy/daughter duet, "Butterfly Fly Away," a tender ballad about the tween/teen passage when drab caterpillars transform into colorful winged adults.
Directed by Peter Chelsom, who made the cult classic Funny Bones - an Oedipal showbiz comedy set in Blackpool, England - HM: The Movie handles the strained daddy/daughter bond with sufficient lightness and laughs so that fathers won't mind accompanying their spawn.
For adults, HM: The Movie is a mildly diverting affair that speaks out of both sides of its mouth: Yes, girls, you can be a superstudent and a superstar (but you might have a meltdown). Yes, girls, you can be a shopaholic and a frugalista (but you might have a meltdown). For its target audience, oblivious to the film's narrative crossed wires, it's definitely three-star entertainment.