“Guys ‘n’ Divas: Battle of the High School Musicals” is considerably better than its cutesy title — a flawed but personal look at the kids and teachers mounting productions in, of all places, Southern Indiana. Producer-director-narrator Barry Blaustein is perhaps too ambitious in trying to document the ups and downs of two shows at different schools and all the related angst and up-close-and-personal stories associated with them, but it’s still a slice of fly-over American life that one seldom sees elsewhere.
Taking it from the top, as it were, the kids go through all the emotions associated with being cast and rejected. Some harbor dreams of careers as performers. Others are wrestling with their sexuality, and how family members (if not so much their friends) respond to learning about them being gay. An autistic youth aspires to a life in one of the arts — either as an actor, or a professional wrestler.
The teachers don’t fare quite as well, appearing a little too driven in a “those who can’t do” manner — as if they’re living out their own thwarted Broadway fantasies through these kids. Yet the take-away as the two productions finally unfold is sweet, entertaining and interesting, even if there are too many personalities and stories in the buildup to fully appreciate the closing montage regarding who wound up where, doing what.
Blaustein’s narration — flecked with personal anecdotes about his own youthful experiences — doesn’t add much, but the film’s flaws are also in some ways its strengths: Messy, disorganized but energetic, the movie mirrors the attributes of the high school productions it’s chronicling. And in this case, there’s a purity that trumps the imperfections, because these performers really are (to quote another musical) doing it for love — soaking in the smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd — and not to pad Disney’s earnings.