It’s personally very gratifying to finally see an original musical in movie form again after quite an incredible amount of time in between. I can’t even remember the last one I’ve seen as a matter of fact, and it’s a testament to the balls of its producers – who to my mind are part of ‘the dreamers’ the movie sings about.
- Why it shouldn’t have gotten approved – I would think that a romantic musical of any sort would be hard to get a go ahead from a studio for two reasons: 1.) You can gather from media and a general negative air around the world that audiences are literal – or the types who would not appreciate or understand the idea of spontaneous choreographed dancing to music coming from nowhere. And 2.), The only worthwhile romantic movie idea would have to be the Nicholas Sparks types, because people like the idea of a macho loner guy building a yacht or an antique house by hand and doing heroic selfless acts all while secretly yearning for a spunky female lead.
- Good writing – The part I appreciate most in the film is how it captures the idea of developing romance, or a mutual reaction built on nothing in particular – not even sex or physical attraction. Just a down to earth appreciation of each other and the resulting giddy excitement in wanting to spend time together. All captured in the scene where Sebastian realizes Mia had not watched Rebel Without A Cause, and suggests that they do, meaning they are about to go on a date without either asking that they go on one. If a part of a film feels genuine this is due to strong writing delivered by great acting and here it is in force.
- The torn artist – Another faithful reproduction for me is the idea of an artist ‘selling out’. While in this case you would not think it so bad – all artists have to sell out even a little bit to accommodate popular taste or even at least just do what the boss says – the attack on Sebastian’s personal beliefs of what jazz should be vis a vis what actually sells is a strain, and I find myself thinking at times that in real life a guy like that would probably be a real asshole to deal with. This is the reason artists are sometimes declared as divas or, well, assholes because they are constantly frustrated at the compromises their art has to go through in the name of making some cash.
- And of course there’s the jazz – To be honest, the music played here isn’t even as deeply nuanced as some of the stuff the artists Sebastian follows really is. But at least it’s a start. Jazz, in the form described in this movie, really is dying, and has been doing so a long time. However John Legend is wrong when he says it has to modernize. If anything, jazz must stay the same. It is the source of all modern music, and the source needs to be heard before adaptation from it. Anyway, that’s for another post.
- Better singers though – If I have one gripe, and it’s a small gripe, it’s that I wish they were better singers. If you had ever heard a Barbra Streisand or Frank Sinatra (yes I’m going all out here) sing a theatrical song or better yet sing it within a play, you would not understand what I mean about a singer taking you out of your seat and taking you on a journey. The context of a great song heard in theater live, powered by an incredible voice is a combination that is beyond anything you will ever experience in entertainment. Ships sail to conquer other lands, romances live and die, continents are divided and mended on the strength of great music sung by great singers in great plays. At best the singing and dancing were only satisfactory – a far 2nd to their acting, which was terrific.