(Note: This review was written before my Teen Beach Movie enlightenment… I plan to rewrite this review at some point.)
Teen Beach Movie was such a hit last weekend with my daughters that we turned on the sequel for this week’s movie night. The result is, perhaps unsurprisngly, a mixed bag.
On the very disappointing front, the music — you know, the biggest draw of the original — is significantly worse this time around. I’m not sure any of the tracks here would crack the top 5 of the original. (Probably only the closer.) The soundtrack intermingles some modern pop-sounding numbers that are much less fun than the retro throwbacks, including a Ross Lynch rock number.
But other than the music — and that’s a very big “but” — the sequel is generally a much better movie. There’s clearly a bigger budget, and it shows: The production and look are much more ambitious and mostly quite excellent (especially the delightful costuming).
Not every bit of production works — there’s a pivotal scene at a school dance that drowns the colors in dark, purplish lights . It’s striking, but out of place, and makes the characters and costumes blend together.
The biggest leap in quality might be the acting. Maia Mitchell is almost unrecognizable from her twitchy, wet paper towel of a performance from the original. Ross Lynch is solid, and Garrett Clayton is a scene-stealer as Tanner. But Grace Phipps as Lela… swoon. I could really see her being a star based on this performance.
The script is middling but less stuffy than the original. It does force us to buy into Mack and Brady as a couple (who cares?) but there’s a whole-ass story here this time, unlike the original. Then again, Brady goes from a slacker, to a professional musician, to a secret inventor over the course of about 6 scenes.
Oh, and the bisexual energy is still off the charts. Lela and Mack should’ve been the endgame couple.
I was ready to lock this in one rating lower… but then the ending came around, which I quite liked in spite of its logical incoherency. Who knew a Disney Channel Original Movie could be this bittersweet and almost elliptical?
June 2022 update:
Bumping this up just a hair from the first time I watched it as the soundtrack has grown on me a little bit. It still spins its wheels too much and misses the obvious conclusion (sending the boys back to Wet Side Story and leaving the girls in the real world in a quasi-queer awakening for all parties), but makes up for it with one of the most elliptical, anti-fan service twists imaginable for a Disney Channel movie.