Sometimes “nice” can be very high praise, and that is the way I mean it when I say that the utterly snark-free “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” is as nice as it gets. With a gossamer-weight plot line that makes Archie Comics look like Dostoyevksy but all the heart, spirit, and sweetness and fun its fans are hoping for, this is a resoundingly satisfying conclusion to the record-breaking trilogy. I admit it — I smiled, I tapped my feet, and I even wiped away a tear.
One thing I especially loved about the movie is the way it avoided the usual misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Troy (Zac Efron) and Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), who met singing a karaoke duet in the original HSM are thoughtful, kind, and committed throughout this film. The overall tone of the movie is sugary, but they are much more authentic than most movie couples in the way they trust and support one another. It is such a relief to see them so solidly together as they try to address their problems. There is no silliness about their relationship, which is supported by everyone around them. That means that when they are not singing or worrying there is not much for them to do but smile their dazzling smiles at each other, but the singing and dancing is great, the smiles are indeed dazzling, and they do have one breathtakingly romantic moment that is surprisingly touching because it is utterly pure and simple and lovely.
Like all high school seniors, Gabriella and Troy feel that everything is moving too fast. They are excited about college but wish they could hold on to everything they have loved at East High. They are trying to figure out how to understand what is right for them, which may not be what their parents want. And they have counted the miles between the schools they are planning to attend and are not looking forward to being so far away from each other. Everyone is just too busy and distracted to be in another musical show this year but somehow Gabriella once again brings them all together for what they know will be their last chance.
But Mean Girl Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale vamping like a cross between Paris Hilton, Christina Aguilera, and Cruella deVil) wants to be the star of the show. With her twin brother Ryan (Lucas Grabeel), the show choreographer, she dreams of having it all in a sensational dance number in the school cafeteria that is a throwback to the all-out show-stoppers of the classic MGM musicals. Sharpay has a car with a “Fabulous” license plate, a personal assistant with a British accent, some truly impressive hair, a double locker with a padded interior and a make-up mirror, and an endless series of tiny miniskirts. Her entrance is sensational — as all of the kids are in bright red in tribute to the championship basketball team, she comes in the door in flaming hot pink.
The musical numbers are sheer delight, especially Efron’s athletic romp in a junkyard with pal Chad (Corbin Bleu) and his Fred Astaire-inspired, literally off-the-wall solo in the school late at night. Troy and Gabriella just might bring back the waltz with their lovely pas de deux in the school’s rooftop garden. They might bring back the idea of sweet, tender romance where one special kiss means everything, too.