Friday, July 7, 2017

Family Movie Night: JEDI JUNIOR HIGH

Welcome to another installment of FAMILY MOVIE NIGHT, where we give our recommendation on a family-friendly movie to enjoy. This week we review the 2014 documentary, JEDI JUNIOR HIGH.

Once upon a time in 2009, in the Anaheim suburb of Costa Mesa, CA, a group of children and pre-teens were gathered to stage a musical version of The Empire Strikes Back, the fifth installment in the Star Wars saga. The budget was low, the rehearsal time was short, and the talent was about where you would expect it to be with a bunch of child actors. Jedi Junior High tells the story of that strange and heroic undertaking.

In the usual documentary style, Jedi Junior High is comprised of interviews and archival footage stitched together to tell the story of the six weeks covered by the production, from auditions to opening night. We get to know the people involved, cast, crew and parents, we see scenes from rehearsals, and, finally, we get glimpses of the final production. We get plenty of anecdotes about the production, including a story about how the show actually got George Lucas's blessing to proceed, though Lucas doesn't put in an appearance on opening night. Thankfully the production was staged before Star Wars was swallowed up by the media behemoth that mortal men name Disney. I doubt they would have been so lucky dealing with such a notorious defender of brand and copyright as that.

This movie doesn't break any new ground in the documentary filmmaking craft, but it doesn't quite measure up to the standards of a garden-variety documentary either. Jedi Junior High is only 75 minutes long, and it still feels like it's padded for time. Nearly fourty-four minutes of that time is used on profiles of the performers, and only occasionally talks about the production at all. Instead we get little bits of interesting trivia. One kid's father is a member of the rock band "The Offspring"; another kid describes Star Wars as "the only sci-fi series that makes sense". But then we get into things have nothing to do with the price of blue milk whatsoever. One kid does magic as a hobby; watch him do tricks! Another kid is really popular the girls. I think the point of this was so the movie didn't lose sight of the fact that these were kids dealing with kid-level stuff, but there's a point where profiling the subjects of your doc overwhelms the story you're trying to tell, and this movie crosses it.

Get past those issues, though, and Jedi Junior High is still good fun. The glimpses of rehearsals we do get made me wish the doc had focused more on the work that went into the production. That said, we still get shots of the kids practicing choreography by dancing to old pop hits while in costume. A ten-year-old wearing an R2D2 costume made of cardboard and nylon, and busting dubious moves to One Night in Bangkok was my favorite moment of these.

The production itself is, for reasons we can probably guess, not shown in its entirety, but what we do see is both hilarious and cringe-worthy. And then it's over, but for a final round of where-are-they-now interviews with the cast, reminiscing about how participating in this memorable folly changed them. That left me confused as to what this documentary was actually about. It's advertised as the story of an ambitious theater project, but it turns out to be another tale of a formative experience where chances were taken and memories were made. That's all well and good, but I would have liked to know that going in. I would have been more prepared for the fact that this documentary actually only spends a minority of its runtime talking about the production at all.

"Child has life changing experience, child is changed because of it" is a well covered storyline, in both fact and fiction. This movie might be useful if you're trying to get your own kid psyched to try musical theater, but if you just want to show something new to your Star Wars-obsessed youngster, they may end up disappointed. Jedi Junior High is a friendship story that just happens to include Star Wars, not the other way around.

Jedi Junior High is not rated.

Robert's Score: 5 / 10

Make sure to check us out and like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram for all of our reviews, news, trailers, and much, much more!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment