I almost feel bad making fun of “Standing Ovation.” Not that it isn’t terrible. It is terrible. Sweet merciful mangos, is it ever terrible. It’s about a bunch of screeching New Jersey tween girls who sing awful songs, and none of them can act, and every detail of the plot is moronic, and everything everybody says is dumb, just dumb, all the time. In terms of production quality and entertainment value, the only difference between “Standing Ovation” and the raw camcorder footage your dad shot of your 8th birthday party is that the birthday party footage wasn’t shown in 700 movie theaters and didn’t make blood spurt out of my eyes when I watched it.
The reason I almost feel bad picking on it is that no one in the cast is actually a professional performer, and most of them are kids. This is almost everyone’s only IMDb credit. They clearly WANT to be professional actors, but they aren’t yet, and they probably never will be, because they don’t appear to have any talent for it. Do I really want to make fun of 13-year-old girls who aren’t really actors in the first place? Or does being in a wide-release motion picture make you a fair target, regardless of who you are?
And even if they are fair targets, are there certain aspects that are off-limits? For example, there’s this one poor girl in the movie who’s chubby and has a faint but noticeable mustache. She’s probably 13 years old, and she’s at that awkward stage, bless her heart, where she just looks like a bug-eyed, toad-faced little monster. We all went through that. All of us. Even people who were cute kids or who went on to be good-looking adults had a phase at some point in adolescence where their facial features were all mismatched sizes, like a Mr. Potato Head Frankenstein monster, with oily skin, and wiry hairs sprouting in random places. You cringe when you see pictures of yourself from that era. Now imagine you were in a movie! Imagine that just when you were the least photogenic that you would ever be in your life, someone thrust you in front of a movie camera and made a permanent record of your lumpy, misshapen body while you delivered insipid dialogue in your grating mid-puberty voice. No one should have to go through that.
So we agree that our critique of this excruciating film shouldn’t dwell on the physical appearances of the hapless young people who were roped into it. That’s fair. I’m just saying, if you watch the movie, you’ll find it impossible not to notice just how unappealing everybody is. The toad-faced one is especially noteworthy, but even the “pretty” girls are made to wear unflattering costumes and too much makeup, and photographed in garish light. The film was shot on the Jersey Shore, using mostly local kids who responded to ads placed in the local papers. They can’t act. They don’t know what they’re doing. They were basically chosen at random — not because they were photogenic or talented or charismatic, but because they were nearby. Go outside and look around. Do you think the average person on the street should be in a movie? Of course not. And that’s on a normal street! Now imagine it’s a street in New Jersey!
Anyway, the first surprising thing about “Standing Ovation” is that James Brolin is credited as the executive producer. That means he’s the one who paid for it. Why a famous person with a lot of money would finance a pointless, no-name production like this I don’t know. On the other hand, the movie looks like it cost about three hundred dollars to make, so it wasn’t much of an investment. James Brolin might not even realize that he DID finance it. Maybe the director found James Brolin’s wallet and took three hundred dollars out of it before returning it, then paid him back by calling him the executive producer.
The second surprising thing about “Standing Ovation” is that while it has all the hallmarks of a movie made by some pervy anonymous guy and his neighbors’ children, it was actually written and directed by Stewart Raffill, who previously made “The Ice Pirates,” “Mac and Me,” and “Mannequin 2.” Those weren’t good, of course, but they were movies, with professional actors and everything. Raffill seems to have fallen on such hard times that now he can’t get a single member of the Screen Actors Guild to work with him.
“Standing Ovation” is a wholesome and family-friendly movie about the importance of chasing your dreams even when you lack the skills necessary to achieve them. Never let not being good at something stop you from forcing people to watch you do it! Our heroes are a quintet of middle-school-aged girls who believe they are America’s next singin’-and-dancin’ pop act. They are called the 5 Ovations. They sing generic songs with vague, harmless lyrics about getting on the dance floor and being in love with someone, and they do it while performing choreography that they learned during that one semester they took drill team.
Their fiercest competition comes from The Wiggies, a group of five sisters who are just like the Ovations except that they are mean and ruthless and catty, and slightly better at what they do. The Wiggies dress and dance like those icky junior miss beauty pageant contestants that are the focus of every show on basic cable. You know the kind I mean? They’re all tarted-up and acting in a manner that is … not “sexual,” exactly, but something? Something they’re too young for? The Ovations are less overt than The Wiggies, but both groups make you think: Oh, dear, these girls do not have good mothers.
The Wiggies are the daughters of Mr. Wiggs (Sal Dupree), the wealthy owner of the largest wig factory in America, which means “Wiggs” is either a dumb pseudonym or an extraordinary coincidence. Also, I doubt that they’re all really Mr. Wiggs’ daughters, since one of them is black, but that’s none of my business. The important thing to know is that the girls and their alleged father are a bunch of conniving cheats, regularly sabotaging the efforts of the 5 Ovations at talent competitions. In the opening sequence, they bribe a stage manager to pour pepper into the Ovations’ microphones, which is convenient because the stage manager happens to have a pepper shaker (helpfully labeled “PEPPER”) right there in the wings next to the sound board and the technical equipment.
The Ovations, on the other hand, do not engage in such unfair practices. Well, except in retaliation, like when they put fleas in The Wiggies’ wigs. But then it’s OK. It’s not “cheating” if someone else cheated first. If kids’ movies have taught us one thing, it’s that the whole “be the better person and don’t stoop to their level” philosophy is for chumps.
The Ovations’ leader, I guess, is Brittany (Kayla Jackson), who lives with her old Irish grandfather (P. Brendan Mulvey), who likes to gamble away the family’s rent money at the horse races. In one scene, Brittany follows Grandpa to the off-track betting parlor and berates him for his losses, then immediately reverses course and pleads with him to bet on a long-shot she heard about from a friend. It pays off, they win $2,500, and the movie never mentions gambling again. Which is probably just as well, since the movie apparently had no clear views on the subject anyway.
How did Brittany have a tip on a horse race, you ask? She got it from Joei Batalucci (Joei DeCarlo), a tough-talking, street-wise girl at school who has declared herself to be the Ovations’ manager. Joei gets the Ovations a gig performing at a retirement home, which is perfect because senior citizens are well-known for their love of tween pop music. Joei also wants Brittany and the Ovations to help her find the guy who stole $90,000 from her family a decade ago. How she thinks the Ovations can assist in this search is not specified, but you have to understand that sometimes the movie just likes to say things without thinking about them first.
Meanwhile, there’s a running joke where a much younger girl named Alanna Wannabe (Alanna Palombo) keeps trying to weasel her way into the 5 Ovations or The Wiggies — any group will do, she just wants to be a star! Her signature song consists of the lyrics “All I want to do is sing!” over and over again. She sings in a comically off-key fashion, which I assumed was part of the joke until I realized that the movie never acknowledges it. As far as the movie is concerned, she sings as well as the rest of them. That’s probably what her parents tell her, too, when she collects her participation trophies at the Everyone’s A Winner school talent competitions.
The big news is that a major television network is having a music video contest, and the winning group gets a million dollars. One of the 5 Ovations uses a calculator to figure out that this would be $200,000 apiece. (She seriously uses a calculator.) The Wiggies have lots of money to make a fancy video, whereas the Ovations must flirt with a boy their age whose father owns a recording studio to get him to help them out. How a recording studio will be useful in filming a video is not specified. Again, sometimes the movie is just thinking out loud. At any rate, they record a song and make a video, and it comes down to the 5 Ovations and The Wiggies at the big, nationally televised, million-dollar concert — which was clearly filmed in a high school auditorium — and you’ll never guess who wins.
But wait! Just because everything we could possibly care about has been resolved doesn’t mean the movie is over! (Just ask the people who made “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”) Joei figures out that the man who stole her family’s money is now the head of the very television network that hosted the contest — and that he’s also Brittany’s long-lost father! That’s two implausible coincidences for the price of one! Also, Joei occasionally has asthma attacks, and you keep thinking it’s going to figure into the plot somehow, but it never does, which leads me to think that the director simply didn’t notice that the actress kept taking out her inhaler during certain scenes.
What makes “Standing Ovation” especially unbearable is that its simple, half-hour plot is stretched out to 105 minutes through the wearying overuse of montages and rehearsal sequences, all set to songs that are so bad that they’re not even protected by the First Amendment. “I’m one in a million/And I know you’re feelin’/The confidence and attitude that I have” says one, over and over again, until you hate it, the movie, and everyone you’ve ever loved. “One in a million” is actually a good way of putting it, because on a pain scale of 1 to 10, “Standing Ovation” scores 1,000,000.