If you don’t know what to make of “Glee: The 3D Concert Movie”, then not to worry: the producers devote much of the film to telling you exactly what to think. In between the songs, performed in a venue the size of the moon, we’re treated to many vox-pop clips of “Glee” fans enthusing about how the television series has helped them to be themselves: to be proud of their ethnicity and sexuality, and to celebrate what makes them unique. Several mini-documentaries about these fans go into further detail about the programme’s life-changing promotion of diversity.
Given that the film is all over in 84 minutes, this self-promotional padding raises the question of how short the concerts themselves must have been. But the spiel is also contradicted by the “Glee” cast members on stage. Overwhelmingly, the performers are white, athletic, attractive and, generally speaking, not likely to be mistaken for the less photogenic fans in a thrall to them. Occasionally I glimpsed an overweight white girl performing in the background, but the film’s commitment to diversity appears to rest almost entirely on the shoulders of Amber Riley, who plays Mercedes Jones. She’s both black and chunky, which makes her stand out from the Barbies & Kens of the “Glee” crowd. There’s also Chris Culfer, who as Kurt Hummel heroically proves to the world’s bigots that gay men can be skinny and fey devotees of hair gel and Broadway musicals.
The most radical part of the production would seem to be the inclusion of Kevin McHale as Artie Abrams, who scoots around in a wheelchair for much of the concert while his colleagues are dancing. But later on, McHale has a solo number in which he (wait for it) jumps out of his wheelchair and performs an energetic dance routine. Not so diverse after all, then. I can’t imagine how genuine wheelchair users are supposed to feel about the sequence. Grateful that “Glee” features a wheelchair-bound character? Annoyed that the producers couldn’t find a single disabled actor in America to play the role? Doubly annoyed that McHale goes on to rub their noses in it by proving just how capable his legs actually are? His casting isn’t very progressive, unless the competition is “The Black And White Minstrel Show”.
The documentary profiles of the fans are even more problematic. One such interlude, which lasts longer than most of the musical numbers, concerns a girl with dwarfism who is also a cheerleader. If that weren’t achievement enough, she’s invited to the school prom by an average-sized footballer. “I never thought it could happen,” she gushes. “I’ve only ever been to dances with guys my own height before.” Quite what “Glee” has to do with this miracle is never explained, but it’s supposedly inspiring to see a spotty teenage boy deigning to shuffle on his knees with a girl two feet shorter than he is.
“Glee: The 3D Concert Movie” fetishises outsiderdom. It literally makes a song and dance of diversity, and it’s a song that’s catchy enough to attract anyone who feels different, or who likes the idea of feeling different. But the underlying message is to be yourself—just as long as this self is unthreatening, unchallenging and yearns to fit in with the good-looking, successful majority. Perhaps the music is particularly catchy when everyone is duped into believing they are dancing to the beat of their own drum.
“Glee: The 3D Concert Movie” is in cinemas in America and Canada, and opening in Britain on August 19th