Sunday, January 4, 2009

Supporting Actress Blog-a-thon, Class of 2008: Ashley Tisdale in High School Musical 3: Senior Year

When I wrote my post for last year's blog-a-thon, I had a hard time coming up with an actress and performance that had moved me. After mulling it over for awhile, I finally decided to cheat a little and profile Ashley Tisdale and her exemplary work in the Disney TV movie High School Musical 2. At that point, my love for Ashley (yes, she was still Ashley back then) was nothing more than a mild-to-heavy adoration of her character's divalicious antics and the knowledge that she was someone to watch. Over the past year, this love has blossomed into a near obsession in which I now simply refer to her as "La Tisdale" (I do this in real life, too, and the sad/scary thing is that people still know who I'm talking about) and has culminated into a campaign to get her an Oscar nomination. So this year, when it was time to choose my entry for the Supporting Actress Class of 2008, it was an absolute no-brainer.

Ashley Tisdale as Sharpay Evans in High School Musical 3: Senior Year

If it doesn't seem like La Tisdale has as much to do in HSM3 as she did in HSM2, you'd probably be right. HSM3 is more concerned with the bland relationship between singing jock Troy (Zac Efron) and his annoying sweetheart Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) than anything else, so that means all of the supporting characters are relegated to the sidelines even more than before. But that's no problem for La Tisdale, who often does her best work from the edges, upstaging the other hapless performers like nobody's business. When the entire cast is gathered together for the first time at the spring musical tryouts, no one in the cast besides Troy is given much to do, but La Tisdale knows how to focus the attention of a scene on her whenever the script blindly ignores her. Her comedic timing on such simple quips as her sarcastic "Yipee" when the rest of the Wildcats decide to join the play at Gabriella's insistence or "Genius," delivered with such eye-rolling deliciousness when Mrs. Darbus announces the subject of this year's spring musical, is light years ahead of anyone on the cast. Director Kenny Ortega hasn't had to deal with someone with this style of over-the-top, nearly drag queen-esque, comedic chops since Bette Midler in Hocus Pocus (a performer Tisdale is eerily reminiscent of) but, thankfully, he lets her perform with reckless abandon all over the film.

When Sharpay is given a chance to shine alone, La Tisdale relishes these moments and milks them for all they are worth. Her entrance alone, a moment that rivals some of the musical numbers in terms of heightened drama and epic scale, lets us know precisely who this character is without so much as uttering one syllable. The film actually helps her in some respects- the people in the hallway part like she's Moses and they're the Red Sea when Sharpay waltzes on by, men, struck by her beauty, faint when she walks by- but the attitude is all present in Tisdale's performance. Her body language says volumes; when she struts into the school we immediately know who has the power. That little twirl she adds at the end? Well, that's just the icing on the cake. And when she briefly smiles at some lucky fellow who walks by her in the hallway, it feels like she's God or Oprah, bestowing a gift upon the world. When Sharpay finally arrives at her locker, there are few brief shots that show her, still without saying anything, shaking a snow globe with her dog in it, trying on her tiara and looking at her reflection in the mirror. We realize here that this woman is a princess, someone in capable of being touched and if anyone is going to try to steal her throne, it's going to be a battle to death (appropriately enough, this is when we meet future nemesis Tiara, whom she kindly greats with, "What are you?").

Sharpay's musical numbers are, as always, among the best and the brightest of the film and her moments in HSM3 are no exception. "I Want It All" is the piece de resistance of the entire trilogy and it's due in part to La Tisdale's fearlessness and talent as a performer. She's never been much of a dancer- which she's even admitted in countless interviews- but I'll be damned if she doesn't pose and strut like a true pro (she could almost be a Pussycat Doll). Another thing that blew me away was how sexy she was- even for a film rated PG G. That silver leotard combined with the platinum blonde wig she sports during the end of the "I Want It All" number makes her look like one of the Mistresses of Murder's Row from Chicago. Tisdale uses this sexuality to her advantage, providing a whole new insight into Sharpay: if this musical number is a representation of what she wants her future to be, then we're in for a treat once she gets to Broadway.

My favorite moment of the La Tisdale's performance is the moment after we think she has been defeated once and for all. Throughout the first two films, countless times we've seen Sharpay fall and then claw her way back in by the end. This time, however, things are a little different. Her former assistant, Tiara, has finally shown her true colors and has just revealed that she has stolen Sharpay's spot in the show. Sharpay is distraught and it looks like her previous disastrous performance may have been her last. We cut from her for another musical number and then cut back to her, rejected and alone in her dressing room. Suddenly, however, that familiar spark re-emerges in Sharpay's eyes and she rises like a Phoenix from the ashes, ready to take her rightful place back on stage. Thanks to Tisdale's performance, we actually cheer the harsh and manipulative person on and want to see her succeed (in what other Disney film can you say that about the villian?). And her performance once she gets on stage? Flawless. That entrance is divalicious in the extreme and that move she makes when she takes center stage on the line "It's gonna be my night!" flashes to my mind whenever I hear the song.

La Tisdale's triumph here in HSM3 is exactly what true "actressing at the edges" is all about. Here we have a talented woman triumphing against a script that doesn't have time for her and neglects her for a less interesting romance plot with lightning quick comedic timing, a pitch perfect character development and the ability to bring out the best in her castmates (even ones as dire as Vanessa Hudgens) while highlighting her own abilities as an actress. I don't know how she does it- especially considering her age and the source material- but I'm eternally grateful to Ashley Tisdale for having the talent and determination to turn the one-dimensional Sharpay into a fully-inhabited character; without her, I'm nothing.

For more Supporting Actress goodness, head on over to the Blog-a-thon Headquarters at StinkyLulu to read more profiles on countless other performers.


J.D. said...

Actually, it was rated G! Disney doesn't let things get rated PG.

This totally wasn't disappointing, dude. Ugh, mein gott.

Also, Tiara is such a useless little twat.

Marcy said...

Once again, another great write-up about the talented Ashley Tisdale! The only reason I started watching the HSM films is because of your many praises of La Tisdale's brilliance. And now I'm a fan (of the film's cheesiness and Tisdale's performance), thanks to you!

Tisdale does some very reliable comedic work as Sharpay. The character definitely had much more meat in HSM2 but Tisdale never lets a scene slip away from her, even in her limited screen-time in HSM3. I love to see what she's capable of in the future. I love your Tisdale-Midler comparison, by the way--very well said!

Bu-but, wasn't HSM3 rated G? That said, Tisdale was on fire in the "I Want It All" scene!

mB said...

Here's hoping we get to see La Tisdale perform I Want It All on Oscar Night, that - and/or a nom would be the icing on the cake.

ed said...


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