The American Mall Jun 11, 2018 10:21:02 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Jun 11, 2018 10:21:02 GMT -5
The American Mall (2008)
Directed by: Shawn Ku
Directed by: Shawn Ku
I remember being around nine and stumbling upon the animated program 6teen on Nickelodeon one afternoon. It was a distinctly different show than usual Nick fodder, its animation style sharper in both contrast and character designs and its subject matter a tad edgier than the likes of Spongebob Squarepants. I'd never see it again on the network (later realizing it was only on Nick for a five-month period before the rights somehow transitioned to Cartoon Network), but occasionally revisited it on home video, humbly taking note of how it so smoothly spoke to that awkward age-group between children and teenagers and romanticized the age where everything still seems out of reach.
I bring up 6teen to begin my review of The American Mall, a now seldom-remembered made-for-MTV film that attracted a paltry market-share despite extensive advertising, to remark on the perception of coolness amongst adolescents. I might've been a bit too young for the target demographic of The American Mall when it came on TV, but I do that most teenagers, if given a choice, would've likely went for 6teen as opposed to Shawn Ku's music-video-disguised-as-a-film. 6teen might've had the appearance of a medium-budget Saturday morning cartoon, but what it lacked in flash it made up for in storytelling and witticisms sprinkled over the course of an episode despite its sitcom structure. The American Mall, despite the ostensible liberation that comes with airing on MTV, is a third-rate High School Musical clone with no edge and no commitment to being relatable to its target demographic.
The entire film feels like it was assembled by self-loathing Viacom executives ashamed at the bastardized network they've created, who tried to give it their all on one last project with the intent to reverse course on what was already not salvageable.
The film revolves around a plethora of college-bound teens who spend their days at the local mall. The main focus is on Nina Dobrev's Ally, who intends to be a songwriter in life but whose dreams are constantly put on hold by the demands of her mother (Yassmin Alers), a one-time performer, and their struggling music shop. Ally's act of rebellion comes on a nightly basis when she sneaks into the mall to play on the grand piano, where she's also ogled from afar by the janitor Joey (Rob Mayes), who leads a garage band comprised of good ol' boys. The two meet-cute when Ally is performing to no one, so she believes, and the two have an amiable, teen-appropriate romance amongst Yankee Candles, handbags, and Verizon Razr cases.
But Ally's family's music shop enters dire straights when the mall-owner's snobby daughter, Madison (Autumn Resser), tries to nudge it and other small commerce units out in favor of a bigger fashion boutique. Madison also tries to elbow her way into stealing Ally's boyfriend away from her, and with a mall talent-show looming over everyone, especially Joey and his band, the interpersonal competition has never been more demanding nor have the stakes ever been higher.
Of all the creative possibilities that a mall (one of my favorite film settings) could inspire — including, but not limited to, a pictorial setting for a bickering marriage ala Scenes from a Mall or the perfect destination for two directionless comic junkies as seen in Mallrats — writers Margaret Oberman, Tomás Romero, P.J. Hogan shamefully decide the climactic moment for the film be a talent show. Most illogical. When has a talent show ever been put on in a mall? When has anything other than an athlete signing, a book tour, or anything of extreme noteworthiness requiring teen-participation taken place at a mall since the Mall of America became overtaken by King of Prussia as the biggest entity of commerce in the United States? As if The American Mall couldn't already feel more detached from the teenage zeitgeist, its writers prove they can't even establish a reason for the third-act to culminate into something meaningful.
As hinted, Ku's direction is more in line with a music video, with Matthew Williams's cinematography adopting commercial slickness as a style and Don Brochu's admittedly versatile editing finding creative ways to include picture-in-picture videography, cross-editing, and comic-book style patterns. All of these tactics are charming but fruitless efforts to liven up stale, radio-tailored pop songs that are as generic as they are frothy. It's true that musicals with thin characters can get by on the energy of the performers and memorable lyricism. The American Mall has a lot of good-looking, young actors throwing their energy into their dance routines to the point where they appears exhausted and confused when tasked to ask. Add the note that the songs themselves are robbed of a memorable lyric even as they occasionally approach the four minute mark and the personality of the film is barely skin deep as a result.
The American Mall feels like the faintest wheeze from a network a day away from discarding its foundational concept in favor of junk-drawer reality TV in hopes to stay relevant. Where does something like this fit in during a time when MTV's benchmark programs were dichotomous entertainment such as TRL and The City, America's Best Dance Crew and Yo Momma? The film is a case study on what happens when a network sells out so much that even a glimmer of potential that could initiate a return to its original spirit is lobotomized to the point of being just another odious shill.
Starring: Nina Dobrev, Rob Mayes, Autumn Resser, Yassmin Alers, Bianca Collins, Neil Haskell, and Al Sepienza. Directed by: Shawn Ku.