"Glee: The 3D Concert Movie" makes you realize just how crucial Jane Lynch is to the Fox TV show's success.
She's nowhere to be found in this peppy concert film, shot over two days during the recent North American tour, and her trademark snark as cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester is sorely missed. Instead what we're left with are the musical performances, which are admittedly glossy, high-energy and infectious, but they seem awfully earnest on their own.
Director Kevin Tancharoen doesn't offer much that you haven't already seen on the ridiculously popular television series. The actors, in character, perform many of the songs that have become fan favorites - including Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" and Queen's "Somebody to Love" - with the same choreography and sometimes even the same costumes from the show.
If you're looking for revealing behind-the-scenes footage, forget it. Amber Riley, Heather Morris and Naya Rivera cattily one-up each other in the makeup room, but it's all part of the act. There is not a single real or spontaneous moment in sight.
And yet, if you love "Glee," you'll be psyched. These are your idols, the ones you welcome into your homes each week, now leaping into your laps in crisp, bright 3-D. They're all multitalented, dedicated young performers who have pulled off the difficult feat of working their butts off but making it look effortless and even fun.
They give the people what they want - if the people are Gleeks, that is.
And we are reminded ad infinitum about the cultural significance of "Glee," with its themes of inclusiveness and acceptance. "Glee: The 3D Concert Movie" would have been perfectly satisfying, escapist entertainment if it really, truly were just a concert movie. Instead, between numbers, we get snippets of the back stories of three fans: a high school cheerleader who's a dwarf, a young gay man who was outed by a fellow student and a young woman with Asperger's syndrome who's obsessed with Morris' character, Brittany.
All have learned to feel more comfortable in their skin, they say, thanks to "Glee." And sure, these are inspiring tales, but they feel wedged-in and they grind the pacing to a halt. Similarly, testimonials from fans outside the concerts - most of whom are wearing homemade T-shirts and flashing the show's signature "L" for loser on their foreheads - also have the cloying repetitiveness of an infomercial.
Thankfully, Tancharoen keeps coming back to the music.
Several moments stand out, including Lea Michele's performance of the Barbra Streisand classic "Don't Rain on My Parade" from "Funny Girl." Michele, a Broadway veteran, just tears this thing up; it's clearly a song both she and her character, Rachel, were born to sing. Riley, in character as the powerhouse vocalist Mercedes, belts out Aretha Franklin's "Ain't No Way," and Tancharoen knows well enough to stand back, shoot it simply and let the moment speak for itself. And Morris does her ultra-meta, Brittany-as-Britney-Spears routine, reenacting the "I'm a Slave 4 U" video complete with barely-there costume and sexy dance moves.
Seeing the wide range of songs in this setting makes you realize just how canny "Glee" is in appealing to multiple generations at once. From The Beatles to Rick Springfield to Katy Perry, there's something for everyone.
Is it calculated? For sure. But it does what it needs to do to please its target audience. Everyone else may as well surrender to the juggernaut.
"Glee: The 3D Concert Movie," a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG for thematic elements, brief language and some sensuality. Running time: 83 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.