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Age RatingNR
DirectorLisa Arnold
WriterKate Larson
Runtime1h 53
Release Date UK01 September 2023
SynopsisA gifted young songwriter finds fame but loses herself along the way.  With the help of her parents and friends, will she find her way back to what truly matters?

The Silver Hedgehog Rating:

8.2 Recommended

8.2 Recommended

Into The Spotlight

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Recently I have been privileged to watch several films that carry powerful underlying messages.  First was Barbie and its message that ‘Women can be or do anything’.  Then Black Bags with its message of ‘Be careful how you treat people’, and now Into The Spotlight arrives bringing with it the message of ‘Follow your heart when chasing your dreams’. In this (our 100th post!!) Garry reviews Into The Spotlight, an Independent film, directed by Lisa Arnold, written by and starring Kate Larson.

Into the Spotlight Script/Screenplay

Into The Spotlight Script / Screenplay 7 Out Of 10

Script / Screenplay 7 Out Of 10

Into the Spotlight is pitched as a a coming-of-age musical about a teenager with a rockstar dad and an enchanted microphone.  In truth though, that’s quite an aspirational summary.

It feels like Into The Spotlight takes a long time to get the main story of Laura Banks’ (Kate Larson) rise to fame.  Focusing first on Banks’ High School experiences and interactions with her small group of friends and the obligatory school mean girl   The story then introduces a strained family dynamic; Banks’ Dad is a member of a rock band and is away a lot of the time causing frustrations with Banks’ Mom. As the film continues, the layers and subplots in Larson’s screenplay continue to be revealed and explored.  Whilst bunking off school with a friend, Banks finds a mystical enchanted microphone in what looks to be a thrift shop.  Anytime she is holding the microphone, Banks transforms into a talented singer.  Due to the actions of the school mean girl, Banks gets thrown ‘’into the spotlight’’.  The repercussions of this being that she goes viral across social networks and ultimately is signed to a record label. Larson then explores more of the family dynamic, expanding on the frictions with her Mother and exploring the Father/Daughter relationship.  This causes disastrous consequences for the family. While all the family subplot is going on Larson moves the story forward. Armed with her enchanted microphone, Banks chases her dream and is thrust into the pariah that is the music industry.  Here she is given a false ‘manufactured’ narrative that unsettles her and her friends.  The dream of stardom at first seems very exciting, but quickly sours and Banks faces a choice about the person she wants to become.

Those who are expecting a High School Musical style of film may be disappointed.  Into The Spotlight starts off zipping through the cast introductions, with Larson providing a whimsical voice-over but Larson’s script is ambitious.  This causes Director Lisa Arnold to slow the pace of the film down, to enable the various sub plots to get going.  This means there are moments where little happens on screen.  This in turn causes the 9 songs that make up the musical to be spread far and wide.

Running at nearly two hours in length, Into The Spotlight feels more like a daytime family soap opera, with a few interspersed songs rather than a wall to wall musical.   This really tested my attention span, and I began to think about how captivated a general family audience would be. I also had mixed feelings over the whole enchanted microphone plot.  It is not overtly obvious just what the microphone is doing to help Banks sing.  It glows and she sings, but not very much is made of it.  I felt like Banks could sing well enough without it and in her new professional career, no one really seemed to question her constant use of it apart from one throwaway line.

What is remarkable though, is quite how a 15-year-old  (at the time) Kate Larson could write a screenplay like this.  Pacing aside, the screenplay shows that Larson has an understanding  of emotions and how to define individual character traits, then continue them through the story.  Larson’s exploration of the forced side of the music industry comes across as personal and leads me to wonder if she is writing from experience.  I look at the 15 years olds I  have known (me included) and I can’t think of any who would have the capability of writing in this way.   It’s funny too.  In what looks to be a direct homage to Grease we have an inept High School principal (Victoria Jackson) totally mishandling the school tannoy system, much to the amusement of the school and us, the viewers.*

* Editor JJ told me these tannoy announcements do happen in schools!  Whilst chuckling away.

Into the Spotlight Casting

Into The Spotlight Casting 8 out of 10

Into The Spotlight Casting 8 out of 10

Casting Directors Regina Moore and Taye Nelson have cast Into The Spotlight with the lead going to the films creator Kate Larson and other roles allocated to a mix of experienced film actors and new young talent.  Cast includes:  Leigh-Allyn Baker (Will & Grace), Karen Abercrombie (War Room), Kevin Sizemore (Fear The Walking Dead: Flight 462, NCIS), Marisa Lynae Hampton, (Lifemark) comedienne Victoria Jackson (SNL), comedian Jeff Allen (Apostles of Comedy), Anthony Evans (One Nation Under God), and Raphael Ruggero (Lifemark).   Here’s my thoughts on a couple of casting choices:

Kate Larson as Laura Banks

When I was first asked to review the film, written by, and starring Kate Larson, I thought it was going to be just a vehicle to launch her career.  As Into The Spotlight progressed, I became impressed with Larson’s acting, singing, and dancing ability.  Her performance as Laura coming across natural and not forced, as if Larson herself has directly experienced the life story of Banks.  Larson’s on-screen chemistry with her on screen friends is credible and she demonstrates a wide emotional range. As her story goes on and she is forced into a manufactured romance, Larson can translate this unease directly to the camera.  What surprised me the most though is that the end credits show that Lawson was not the singer! That credit goes to Rizzi Myers, mind blown!  This shows just what an impressive performance Lawson has given, anyone who’s watched lip-sync karaoke knows it’s not an easy task.

Kevin Sizemore as William Banks

Laura’s Father William is written as a member of a ’Rock Band’.  However, the casting of Sizemore feels a contradiction to this character.  Sizemore can say the words (he mentions he’s in a band), but his clean-cut look and mild-mannered persona means that he comes across somewhat unconvincing Rockstar.   He is at odds with what I have in my head a Rockstar looks like.  (Dave Grohl, if you’re asking).  Where Sizemore‘s casting is more convincing, is that of the Father figure. The Father/Daughter relationship being believable, having great chemistry with his on-screen Daughter (Larson).  Sizemore also brings a sense of realism to the on-screen struggles with Laura’s mother, Kim (Leigh-Allyn Baker).

Special mention to all the youth cast.

They bring the High School alive and bring a great energy to their relationship with Banks.  None of the young cast underperform and they all lean into their characters perfectly.

Into the Spotlight Sound/Music/Score

Into the Spotlight Sound 8 out of 10

Into the Spotlight Sound 8 out of 10

TV and film composer Jay Weigel is credited with Into The Spotlight’s music.  The accompanying score being perfectly suited to Arnold’s direction.  Weigel plays with light whimsical sounds when the teens are being teens and turns it into a hint of mystical to emphasis the enchanted microphone.  Arnold is not afraid to let the music go silent when needed, so Weigel’s work is used to good effect. If I must criticise anything, it’s the songs used for the musical elements.  Whilst they are inoffensive, family friendly pop songs, (that have been really well produced), there are no LA  LA Land or Greatest Showman stand out tracks. Instead, the 9 original tracks all feel overly familiar.  So much so I  played the ‘What Does That Sound Like?’ Game, whilst watching.

I thought one track sounded like Christine Aguilera; another the Grease Finale crossed with Friends.

Whilst on the subject of the songs, shout out to The Voice USA contestant – Rizzi Myers, whose vocal talents lend credibility to the songs and match Kate Larson’s acting brilliantly.  For those wanting to hear Rizzi’s work in full, I suggest listening to the films standalone soundtrack that is available on music streaming platforms now.

https://music.youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_kSt-g-DTOTuwYzMOt2RaHklVAigb6umDg&feature=share

Into the Spotlight Visual Effects

Into the Spotlight Sound Rating 9 out of 10

Into the Spotlight Sound Rating 9 out of 10

What is surprising about Into The Spotlight is the effects are also well produced with no obvious budget shortcomings.  The beginning credits through to the graphics reflecting text messages look great, as do some rather nifty live streaming emoji effects.

The costume team, comprising of Courtney Franzese – costume supervisor,  Haley Maynard – key costumer,  Lisha Pagliarulo  – set costumer and Ally Wenger – wardrobe intern,  have done an admirable job of making the teen and adult costumes relatable.  I like the way they found ways of marking Laura Banks’ rise to fame with ever more glamorous outfits as the film continued.  The makeover montage was fun to watch and showed off the work of Erin Hailey and Alexander McPherson’s hair and make-up departments.

Into the Spotlight Video Quality

Video Rating 9 out of 10

Video 9 out of 10

This is yet another indie film with some great cinematography.   Samuel Willey favouring a mix of cameras and drones.  I get the feeling he worked well with the cast and director to get their vision across to the screen.  Swapping from capturing the dramatic scenes, to capturing the song and dance choreography perfectly, I did not notice anything unsettling, an excellent job.

Into The Spotlight Overall Thoughts

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Into the Spotlight is a family focused feel-good film written by a teenager, pitched at families with young teenagers.  With an underlying message encouraging viewers to step out their comfort zones, embrace their passions, and shine in their own unique ways. The entire cast all look like they are buying into the message and invested in the film’s production. Director Lisa Arnold says,

Into The Spotlight” brings back co-viewing for the entire family and sends an uplifting message to tweens and teens to follow their heart when chasing their dreams.  You will love the story and the music!

Whilst the High School plot is relatable, and the songs are enjoyable.  Arnold’s notion of entire family viewing is admirable.  The recent success of the Barbie film has shown that Cinema still has a place within the family dynamic.  Nevertheless, Into the Spotlight just about kept my attention and I fear that the pacing being a little slow and runtime in turn feeling too long, leads me to question just how successful this rhetoric will be.  Every child I know around the target age is glued to their phones watching 30 second Tik Toc videos or Minecraft videos on YouTube (when not facetiming friends) and that’s a shame, as watching the film you can tell that a lot of love, care and attention has gone into its production With a potential sequel teased, I look forward to seeing just how Kate Larson develops as a writer and seeing what lessons have been learnt from her first ever film production.

Rating:  Recommended (but for those with a younger (tween) audience.)

What do you think of the film or our review?

Why not leave a comment below ..

The Silver Hedgehog: Rating

The Script/Screenplay - 7
Casting - 8
Visual Effects - 9
Music/Sound - 8
Video Quality - 9

8.2

Recommended

The High School plot is relatable, and the songs are enjoyable. Arnold’s notion of entire family viewing is admirable.

Find Out more about our ratings here

Credits:

Words – Garry

Editor – JJ

Images Entertainment Squad

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