ADAM ROSE/20TH CENTURY FOX
The kids from “Glee’’ the television show perform a song during a scene from “Glee: The 3D Concert Movie.’’ (Adam Rose/20th Century Fox)
‘Glee: The 3D Concert Movie’’ isn’t just a bland multiplex souvenir of a pretty good television show or a passable night out for teenage girls and their moms. It’s a working illustration of what differentiates movie stars from TV stars. When we buy a ticket for a George Clooney movie, it’s because we want to see George Clooney (or Emma Stone or Tom Hanks or whomever). The real stars of “Glee,’’ on the other hand, are the characters, not the actors.
The frenzied fans who fill New Jersey’s Meadowlands Arena, where most of this concert film was filmed, want to see not the prodigiously talented singer Lea Michele but Rachel Berry, the neurotic high school dorkette Michele plays on “Glee.’’ When Naya Rivera or Darren Criss talk to the camera backstage, it’s as mean girl Santana Lopez and gay dreamboat Blaine Anderson respectively.
And if you didn’t happen to see the May 2010 episode, “Dream On,’’ you may fall out of your chair when the paraplegic Artie (Kevin McHale) gets out of his chair and leads the athletic choreography for “Safety Dance,’’ the old Men Without Hats song. Of such conceptual dissonances is this show made, embracing the superstar in each teenage misfit and insisting that weird is the new normal.
For all that, “Glee: The 3D Concert Movie’’ is as normal as spin-offs aimed at your wallet get, which is to say it’s substandard in most departments. The onstage numbers consist of energetic re-creations of the show’s most popular musical sequences: “Don’t Stop Believing,’’ obviously, but also Michele’s takedown of Streisand’s “Don’t Rain on My Parade,’’ Cory Monteith’s Finn bawling “Jessie’s Girl,’’ Criss’s Blaine romping through “Teenage Dream.’’ Filmed earlier this summer - using the fans’ cellphones, judging by the cinematography - and edited into a seizure-inducing blitzkrieg of arrhythmic imagery, the concert sections are for Gleeks only. They’ll be happy, but I know what Sue Sylvester would say, and it wouldn’t be pretty.
And lip-synching? A drag convention has less. The strongest singers, Michele and Amber Riley (Mercedes on the show), get lots of loving close-ups because, I’m guessing, little to no post-dubbing was involved. By contrast, when Dianna Agron (Quinn) takes the stage for a duet with Chord Overstreet (Sam), we mostly see the back of her head. A fun game for bored parents is to spot how many times the performers’ lips actually match what you hear on the soundtrack.
“Glee: The 3D Concert Movie’’ also intercuts documentary segments about three real-life fans whose “differentness’’ has found validation and acceptance in part through the show. A gay kid talks of how Kurt’s (Chris Colfer) strength has inspired his own; a girl with Asperger’s speaks movingly about “Glee’’ bringing her a social life for the first time; and a cheerleader with dwarfism is embraced by her high school peers and becomes prom queen. Awkwardly filmed, the segments raise more questions than they answer, even if that cheerleader is a total kick in the pants.
Still, they’re well-intentioned and emblematic of the show at its we’re-all-losers peppiest. The movie’s nadir, by contrast, comes when Gwyneth Paltrow makes a surprise appearance on stage. She’s playing her movie star self, rather than her occasional “Glee’’ character Holly Holiday, and she brings as much of her thin, self-satisfied little voice as possible to the Cee Lo Green hit “Forget You.’’ When she’s done, you may have a different version of the song in mind.