These days, it’s impossible to tell what Glee the television show most wants to be: an “It Gets Better” PSA for bold, young gay men like Kurt (Chris Colfer); a musical about a group of (talented) outcasts like Rachel (Lea Michele); an over-the-top satire of the adults and their so-called “norms”; an all-in-good-fun comedy starring the less-than-bright Brittany (Heather Morris); or a drama centered around the shattered high school romance of Finn (Cory Monteith) and Quinn (Dianna Agron). This isn’t a problem that Glee 3D: The Concert Movie shares: Over the course of 90 minutes, it delivers thrilling encore performances of over 20 songs from the show, as covered by the cast of Glee
The 3D is actually the most deceptive part of the advertising, not because it isn’t present (though it adds very little, given the frenetic editing of the choreography), but because there’s also a fourth dimension present, in the form of documentary footage of the diverse audience Glee now purports to be not just about, but for. Between each song, director Kevin Tancharoen fades to black and cuts to interviews either with the in-character cast (as if their glee club were actually selling out concert stadiums) or with some of the more in-character audience members, a literally colorful bunch. In tightly edited fashion, Glee 3D applies the “Don’t Stop Believin’” magic of their opening number to Janae, a delightful high school cheerleader who happens to be a little person; Josie, who had been living as a recluse with Asperger’s until Glee helped her befriend other fans; and Trenton, who, having come out by accident in the eighth grade, strongly relates to Kurt’s journey. The film is as emotionally manipulative as the show, but it’s never appeared more truthful in its aspiration to inspire—and profit in the process.
As a result, unless you’re the rare person who watches Glee for the hammy adults (who don’t appear in the film), this is a must-see summer film for fans of the show. Consider this a streamlined, “best of” version of the show, in which the convoluted fictional plots have been put on hold and the remixed performances have been turned up to 11—as only a theater’s sound system truly can. Rest assured, Brittany will once again nail the choreography (though not the singing) of “I’m a Slave 4 U,” Puck (Mark Salling) will do his crowd-pleasing version of “Fat Bottomed Girls,” and Rachel will bring down the house both with her goosebumping “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and her touching duet with Kurt, “Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again.”
Best of all, with the songs no longer tied to plot, almost every cast member gets a solo. Fans of the underused Mercedes (Amber Riley) will be happy to know that she sings both “Ain’t No Way” and, with Santana (Naya Rivera), “River Deep, Mountain High.” Even Sam and Quinn (Chord Overstreet and Dianna Argon) get a moment of their own on “Lucky.” Additionally, because these were filmed live, there’s no post-production work; there’s some lip-synching, but save for Artie (Kevin McHale) getting out of his wheelchair to do the safety dance, there are no more fantasy sequences: We’re seeing just how good a glee club (albeit one that’s backed by a professional band) can be, a point made to great effect by Blaine (Darren Chris) and his a cappella posse, the Warblers. No wonder series creator Ryan Murphy wants to go back to the show’s roots for its next season, as there’s a raw power in simply watching a singer pour their heart out, no strings attached. (We’ll make an exception for dancers, like the adorable Harry Shum Jr.) Glee 3D is spectacular because, for once, the show is being itself, and is no longer tangled up in trying to be a spectacle. Who knows, it might even win itself some new fans.