Standing Ovation

Standing Ovation

Film review by: Witney Seibold

 It’s difficult for me to describe “Standing Ovation” to the uninitiated. This is a film clearly designed to be a slick, bland Disney-style musical for the wiggly tweener set, but that description doesn’t do justice to the strangely appealing metaphysical protracted weirdness that subtly oozes from every frame of the film. It’s like someone skinned “High School Musical” and tried to drape its cured hide over the skeleton of something far more unsavory. Most adult audiences may not be able to get past the junky pop tunes, the amateurish acting, the noisy editing, the backwards plotting, the Dickens-like coincidences, or the humor-free humor, but certain people like me, people who bother to drive 30 miles into another county to see a matinee of an unpopular film like “Standing Ovation,” will not only gleefully absorb every last flaw, but perhaps find themselves in a weird mindspace of giddy enjoyment.

I don’t want to sound like one of those hipper-than-thou teenagers who gleefully mocks every last film he sees; Anyone can toss out riffs on just about any film (That made a comedy track to be played alongside “Casablanca” is certainly a sign of some sort of dam breaking), but it takes a special kind of professional, cosmopolitan earnestness to see a flawed, bad film, and still derive a sort of genuine enjoyment from it. That’s how I feel about “Standing Ovation.” It is a bad film, to be sure. Its flaws stretch from mere bad jokes all the way into mind-melting WTF-itude. While I watched it, there were times when I felt crushed into my seat by the hideousness, but, upon further reflection, I feel that I had a unique experience, I have a story to tell, and I had a good time.

Onto “Standing Ovation.”

Five 12-year-old working-class Jersey BFFs dream of stardom. They are led by Brittany O’Brien (Kayla Jackson, a dead ringer for Michelle Trachtenberg), who lives with her Irish grandfather (P. Brendan Mulvey) and songwriting brother Mark (Austin Powell). Mark is kind of a prima donna, and gramps is a gambling addict, and the kids have to hide money from him. Gramps’ addiction is actually so bad that the electricity in their tiny Jersey Shore apartment in constantly being shut off.


In the film’s opening scenes, we see Brittany and her four friends, collectively known as The Ovations, preparing to enter a local talent show. Her cohorts consist of Maya (Najee Wilson, the token black girl), Tatiana (Alexis Biesiada, who, I think, did most of the singing), Blaze (Pilar Martin, who has no discernible personality traits), and Cameron (the nectareous Kayla Raparelli, who, I am sure, is going to grow up into a beautifully cynical stand-up comedienne like Erica Doering or Sarah Silverman). The Ovations, of course, have rivals, in the form of the bourgeois Wiggies, funded by the local millionaire wigmaker Mr. Wiggs (Sal Dupree). The high-school aged Wiggies literally meow threats at the Ovations, and stoop to Friz Freling-style sabotage on their rivals; they put ordinary black pepper into The Ovations’ headsets, inducing sneezing fits.


The only way to get back at The Wiggies is, of course, to win the upcoming music video contest. The Wiggies, being rich, have access to the best dancers, songwriters, and production spaces. The Ovations are touted as blue-collar types, but seem to be able to afford a studio pace, several songwriters, a hoard of professional dancers, and a mixing board. The the odds actually seem pretty even. What’s more, the Wiggies’ songs and the Ovations’ songs sound pretty much identical; they are possessed of that elcero-infused trippy bland hip-hop Radio Disney junk that makes nonentities like Aly & AJ into rock icons. All the lyrics are queasily erotic and shamelessly self-aggrandizing. One group sings about being superstars. Another claims they are, themselves, one in a million.

There is a third party in the running for this video contest in the living Scrappy Doo that is Alanna Wannabe (Alanna Palombo). Alanna is about 8 years old, and is tarted up like a 19th century prostitute. She’s the comic relief character who is constantly breaking onto stage to usurp the spotlight from her peers. She rewrites songs, and earnestly claims she is destined for superstardom. “I’m Alanna Wannabe! And I’m gonnabe!” There were extended passages where I wanted to slap the cute right off that kid.


And yet, and yet… the young Ms. Palombo was clearly having the time of her life. She was glad to be singing. She was glad to be dancing. She was glad to be in a movie. In fact, I got the feeling that every single one of the child actors in this film was having the time of their lives. Through all the weirdness and bad acting and weird jokes and plotting, you still get the sense that these girls are doing what they love. Sometimes that external joy can overpower any artifice. I think most of these gals will be o.k. Some of them will continue acting and singing, some may not. But all of them will always have this film to look back on, and, if they have a sense of humor about it, they’ll grow with intelligence and aplomb.

There a truly surreal subplot, as well, involving another supporting character named Joei (pronounced “Joey,” and played by Joei DeCarlo). Joei is a stirringly offensive Italian stereotype who makes the ur-men on “Jersey Shore” look like Harry Nilsson. She is the disgraced daughter of a dead gangster who is using her tough-talking mob skills to track down the man who stole $90,000 from her father. She carries dangerous animals in her purse at all times (?), and, in one scene worthy of Scorsese, locks a mookish casino owner in an oversized claw machine with a poisonous cobra. These scene where Joei shows up to bully bad guys are a weird, weird aside to the up-with-us joie de vivre of the rest of the film. Joei, I should mention, serves as The Ovations’ manager, and, in an ironic twist (in the face of gramps’ gambling addiction and all), wins the money they need for the video with a horse race tip. I guess gramps kept losing because he just didn’t believe.

This film is a musical, but most all the songs are of the practical variety; every number is being performed by the characters themselves in a natural theater-like setting. But then there’s one utterly baffling musical number set in a restaurant where the unctuous Mr. Wiggs and his Wiggies sing about good table manners. This is a peppy little number, and reminded me of Mr. Boogalow’s “How to be a Master” song from “The Apple.” For this fleeting moment, the universe began to crumble. It was a gloriously strange moment.

So The Ovations, predictably, become finalists in the music video contest, but in an unexpected way: The Wiggies sabotaged their video by editing in some CGI boogers, snakes, worms and vomit, but the audience so loved the “comic” version of the video, that they win anyway. This all leads to the final showdown number in New York City (which was clearly a blue screen effect), in which The Ovations sing and dance with a Chinese contortionist, a 9-year-old ballet expert, and a twentysomething bellydancer, all dancing and singing like robots. It was at this point in the film where I proudly shouted “It’s all been worth it!”

But then, there are all kind of Dickensian machinations following the film’s climax where they hurriedly wrap up all the of the loose ends. My friend Marc, with whom I saw the film (and a strong, strong man, and maintainer of the ‘blog “The Projector Has Been Drinking”), pointed out that there are so many Gods from the machine, that the film becomes a veritable God-producing factory. We get to see the fate of Brittany’s absent parents, the fate of Joei’s rival, the absolving of all the characters’ evil actions, and a scene in which a rich man buys Christmas presents for everyone in the neighborhood.

“Standing Ovation” is a special film. I hesitate to call it “bad” just because I had such a bizarre experience with it. It’s one of those films that the people at The Cinefamily in Hollywood would call an HFS movie. So bad that it transcends snarkiness, and approaches that brain-melting glory of earnest enjoyment.

One might accuse the film’s director, Stewart Raffill, of being a commercial obsessed working man who churned out a “product” rather than a film, but, looking back over his filmography, and having seen “Standing Ovation,” I suspect that he is passionate about his material. He may not be a mad auteur like Tommy Wiseau or Claudio Fragasso (who can be seen earnestly defending his “Troll 2” in a great documentary called “Best Worst Movie”), but he loves what he does. He is the man behind “Ice Pirates,” “Mac and Me,” “Tammy and the T-Rex,” and “Mannequin 2: On the Move.” Raffill has a vested interest in the lives of young people, and his passion for youthful exuberance shines through even the junkiest of his commercial pabulum.

“Standing Ovation” opened small, and shrunk considerably in its second week. If you are, like me, possessed of the HFS madness, I encourage you to track it down; this film has the potential of a cult hit. There’s already talk in certain areas of including it on midnight movie programs. If it does play at midnight, I’d go again.

But I’ll have to steel myself.


Published in: on July 28, 2010 at 12:15 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I don’t think this movie was that bad i don’t think its fair,because you have to take it from a kid’s point of view not an adult i disapprove all critics this is a KID’S movie not an ADULT movie film!

  2. I like the movie but it needs something jk☺

  3. Good movie

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