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Degrassi Goes Hollywood (2009)

by on 2010/03/08

I don’t know when it happened but, at some point, Degrassi became a guilty pleasure.  I suspect a secret legion of followers have long felt the same.  I’ve never agreed with them, though.  Why feel guilty enjoying Degrassi?  It felt verisimilar, understood the ways of my world, and had relevant things to discuss; it opened up, played fair, and never judged.  Until now.  Oh, I still enjoy it, and it hasn’t gone all judgmental, but I can’t help wondering if it has run out of things to say.

Abandoning any pretense of addressing real-world issues, Degrassi Goes Hollywood follows the high-concept adventures of three main characters.  Diva Paige Michalchuk stampedes her way into a Hollywood production called Mewesical High.  Talented but self-doubting Manny Santos makes a cross-America road trip to usurp the role from Paige.  And former goth Ellie Nash escapes her way into romantic misadventure.

Director Stefan Brogren (whom the Degrassi faithful will know as Archie “Snake” Simpson) keeps the action moving fast.  Unfortunately, brisk pacing can’t stop the movie feeling long and complex.  While the soundtrack matches the editing in its injection of energy, a surfeit of plots and superfluous cameos repeatedly jar the momentum.

Since the Next Generation era began, Degrassi has pretty much ceased to look like the Degrassi of my youth.  That trend continues here, with an appearance less gritty than its forebears.  The polish, however, is less Hollywood glitter than direct-to-video glare.  In short, it feels processed.  The marketing of this project clearly suggests that Degrassi Goes Hollywood should stand on its own.  Those intentions are belied, however, not by the production values, but by the narrative content.

In the past, I’ve met critics who dismissed Degrassi as “soap opera for kids”.  I hardly find that argument valid, for the interpersonal conflicts accurately represented playground politics, at least as I saw them.  Unfortunately the soap opera has since devolved into a tabloid.  The collected stories, of which there are too many, simply don’t integrate well.  To paraphrase an exchange in Pixar’s The Incredibles: When everything is special, nothing is.

In addition, for a stand-alone piece, too many scenes demand an up-to-the-moment knowledge of the ongoing show.  Despite my own familiarity with the series — including a reasonable exposure to the Next Generation years — some scenes went astray, especially early on.  Contrast this approach with that of another Degrassi movie, School’s Out. That didn’t require any preparation, and yet was as true to the spirit of Degrassi High as it was to its independence.

I won’t mourn the absence of “classic” Degrassi characters, but I do lament the impulse that foisted other “celebrity” cameos over more substantial proceedings.  I appreciate that mainstream success in Canada translates (at best) to a cult following in America, but I fear Degrassi jumped a shark here.  When Hollywood comes calling, that’s one thing, but crawling to Hollywood is another entirely.  I enjoy the series, all of them, and intend to keep watching but, as a movie, Degrassi Goes Hollywood disappointed me.

* * *

Rated PG for adult situations

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