I’ve heard things about Sunday School Musical, and when I found it on Tubi, curiousity got the better of me, not that there’s much to ruin about the movie. Simply put, it is both a nostalgia hit and a train wreck, so averting the eyes is impossible, and anyway, it’s an Asylum movie, so we all know what that means.
Zach (Chris Chatman) is an obviously talented guy, and the movie opens with him singing and rapping his way down the street. His church choir is one of two going to the State Championships after winning the regional finals and the competition is stiff: The other choir can’t hardly sing and the third choir never shows up because they had a “food poisoning incident” involving egg salad. I’m not paraphrasing that. It’s really that awkward. Anyway, Zach is stoked, and he and his friends, Aundrea (Krystle Connor) and Trevor (Cliff Tan) do a little freestyle rap on the way home.
Then Zach finds out his mom has lost her job, so she, Zach, and Zach’s little brother will be moving in with Zach’s Aunt Janet (Rae Silva) forty-five minutes away until they can all get back on their feet and Zach’s dad comes home from his Army deployment. That means a new school and no more choir, well, at least not the same one. Zach goes up to the roof, where Aundrea finds him and is unreasonably put out by Zach’s news even though it isn’t his fault.
At his new school, Zach is kind of a slacker, but he makes friends with Savannah (Candise Lakota), the super-busy preacher’s kid who not only is at the top of the class, but involved in everything at the school. The two of them are paired up in home ec class, where they bond over cooking out of a circa-1969 Betty Crocker cookbook (my mom owns a copy, by the way). Savannah invites Zach to join the choir but he’s not interested.
As the movie’s plot would have it, Zach has to serve detention in the choir room, which, when he sees the choir going through their usual paces, gets the wheels in his head turning even as he flinches. Before long, they’re a whole new choir. Not everyone is into it, though, namely a kid named Miles (Robert Acinapura), but after a musical faceoff with Savannah in an outdoor study hall, Miles settles in and tacitly accepts Zach.
Meanwhile, at Hawthorne Church, the choir learns the church is closing due to lack of funds, and this means they can’t compete at the state championship because they don’t have the money to get there. The Crossroads kids have other ideas, though: Since each of the groups are awesome in their own way, why not combine and be awesome together?
One can almost hear Hayley Mills singing “Let’s Get Together” in the background.
Come the day of the competition the newly-formed Hawthorne Crossroads choir shows up feeling confident until the Church of the Gospel Youth Choir also shows up. These folks come striding through like the Borg, except that they’re wearing red polo shirts and khakis as if they all just got off work at Target, with no one smiling and no one looking around except for one guy who glances sideways at the plucky Hawthorne Crossroad kids. The road to victory might be a little harder than they thought…or is it?
Sunday School Musical is obviously meant to be a mockbuster of High School Musical and it sort of is, but it’s actually closer to Sister Act 2 in a weak kind of way. Heck, in the opening number there are some steps lifted directly from the St. Francis High School’s All-State performance and the movie ends with an arrangement of “His Eye Is On the Sparrow” that’s initially oddly similar to the one sung by Lauryn Hill and Tanya Blount. It also has a slacker kid; in this case, Zach, who is very talented but also in need of a wakeup call. Among other differences, though, only Zach does any kind of rapping.
(Ironically enough, Chris Chatman, who plays Zach, has starred in the roadshow editions of both High School Musical and Sister Act, but I digress.)
I hate to say it, but the music sort of grew on me with repeated viewings. Once we get past the fake opera-ish sounding stuff given out by the Crossroads kids in the early parts of the movie, the rest isn’t too bad, although it’s still low-level, lower-energy Muzak.
On the other hand, a lot of the backstage elements bugged me. Like, a lot, especially when the movie had these singers breathlessly appearing minutes before they’re supposed to perform. This would not happen; it’s the general thing to show up for soundcheck at least an hour before the performance, maybe longer if gear has to be set up. There were some days when I was with the Continental Singers when we’d all be waiting for hours while our techie, Dave, and assistant techie and drummer, Brian tried to connect all our sound equipment, and older churches or buildings with unique layouts were particularly tricky. On the plus side, though, we were guaranteed a bit of naptime.
The movie has other flaws, naturally, because it’s an Asylum film. The sign for the regional finals is painted on butcher paper with spray paint, and how is it that there are only three choirs competing? Same thing with the State Championship–there’s pretty much no one there. The dialogue is awkward, and the acting can be wooden or hammy, sometimes on purpose (thank you, Miles), and the plot’s stakes are perpetually low; namely, since Zach is able to see his old friends any time he wants to, moving forty-five minutes away isn’t that big of a deal.
It wouldn’t be an Asylum film without some bad movie belly laughs. In the first scene when everyone is applauding the Hawthorne choir the sound cuts out, and the silent clapping goes on and on and on like the boardroom scene in BIrdemic (The DVD sounds way better than the Tubi version). There’s a long blurry shot of Zach’s Spanish class. The camerawork is pretty shoddy, especially when the performers are moving around the stage. Speaking of which, some of the stage scenes are blocked really badly or at least it looks that way on film. It’s hard to explain without showing it, but in real life these performers would have been bashing into each other.
Still, there’s something oddly winsome about Sunday School Musical. It might be a hackneyed and typical Asylum film, but its heart is in the right place.
A new Page To Screen is coming up tomorrow. Thanks for reading, all, and I hope to see you then…
Sunday School Musical is available to own on DVD from Amazon. It is also available to stream on Tubi.
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