Director Kevin Tancharoen (Fame) takes a few odd tacks with this concert film of the Glee live-performance tour. Even during the scant behind-the-scenes footage, the Glee cast remains in character, referring to each other solely by their names from their hit TV show, and dropping awkward role-appropriate one-liners, even though there’s no frame story or premise to explain why those characters would be in concert or a documentary, and even though the performers’ perspective would be far more intimate and relatable. Far odder: The sound and visuals often don’t sync. In particular, either the background singers are sometimes cut out of the mix in favor of pre-recorded music, or the visuals and audio were taken from different sessions. The staging of this show—shot at New Jersey’s Izod Center in June 2011—is also sometimes strange, with performers doing victory laps through the audience while aggressively surrounded by security, or standing fixed on island mini-stages in the middle of the crowd.
But none of this will matter a whit to the hardcore fans, for whom Glee: The 3D Concert Movie was designed as a celebratory, self-validating experience. Tancharoen alternates full-song performances with short interviews of deliriously happy fans in homemade, in-jokey Glee-wear. He also delves into the lives of three young Gleeks in particular—a forcibly outed gay teen, a formerly friendless girl with Asperger’s syndrome, and a little-person cheerleader—each explaining how loving Glee taught them to embrace their differences and find acceptance among like-minded souls. Between the song choices (focusing almost exclusively on rousing numbers highlighted on the show, from “Sing” to “I’m A Slave 4 U” to “River Deep, Mountain High” to “Born This Way”), the fireworks-and-confetti-heavy production design, and the upbeat interviews, Glee: The 3D Concert Movie sometimes feels like an Up With People session, with one central message: Glee isn’t just a TV show, it’s a pervasively positive community experience that improves everyone around it.
One amusing disadvantage of the crystal-clear, you-are-there 3-D cinematography, and the focus on the audience experience is that in practically every shot, it’s easy to pick out off-message concertgoers who are bored, tired, or otherwise disengaged. But mostly, the screen is full of howling, bouncing fans of a wide variety of ages, showing their boundless love for their faux-teen idols. (Apart from Gwyneth Paltrow, who turns up to perform Cee-Lo’s “Forget You,” the show’s adult cast doesn’t appear here.) In a handful of group numbers and a series of solo or duet outings, the Glee kids bring huge energy and big Disney grins to their performances, and the ones who can dance throw in a lot of extra bounce-and-twirl to compensate for those whose choreography just consists of endless running back and forth across the stage. It’s a high-gloss, high-impact, extra-shiny production that fits the Glee dynamic to a T: While the show’s characters perpetually angst over the haters, the show itself ignores them, keeps grinning and counting the revenue streams, and sings out for everyone who’s drunk the Kool-Aid. There are worse philosophies.