Monday, January 12, 2009

Happy Movie Musicals for Hard Times

While the inauguration of Barack Obama is only eight days away (yay!), the news in the US has been very dire recently. Adding the economic and housing problems to the post-holiday/ winter doldrums makes everything seem that much darker. Even if you don't suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the weather in most places during the cold and dreary months of January and February would be enough to get almost anyone down.

If you can't afford a quick jaunt to the sunny Caribbean (and who can nowadays?), musicals are here to help! However, you need to be careful when looking for a movie musical to help lift your spirits and put a spring in your step. Many of the recent musicals worth watching, such as Chicago, are not exactly light-hearted nor do they cause you to immediately run out and love life. Actually, when you start thinking about it, many of the old musicals (The King & I, Carousel, Grease) aren't exactly as lighthearted as they would like you to believe. The first two are particularly sad, and Grease is all about succumbing to peer pressure (dress like a tart to win a guy's heart!).

However, do not fear! There are plenty of fluffy, happy musicals out there (particularly if you don't overthink them like I do). Although the movie musical is no longer the sunny jaunt that they were during the golden age, these Technicolor spectacles are readily available on video or DVD. Here are a few to get you started...

Singin' in the Rain - This is arguably the gold standard of movie musicals. From a pratfall filled "Make 'Em Laugh" to the dreamy "You Were Meant for Me" to the ecstatic title number, there isn't a bad minute in this film. Even with some of my favorite movies, I tend to fast forward through some of the numbers of dialogue. However, every moment of this film is incredible. Plus, Gene Kelly is at his dreamiest. Just be certain to ignore the interesting (but slightly disturbing) backstage drama that went on (apparently, everyone was afraid of Gene).

Hello, Dolly! - Okay, so this isn't a great film (or even a particularly good one), but it is pure cheese and spectacle, and sometimes there is nothing wrong with wanting that. In addition to having Barbra Streisand (which can be a plus or minus, depending on your feelings about her) as an improbably young Dolly, you also have a pre-Phantom of the Opera Michael Crawford singing "It Only Takes a Moment" and "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" (both of which were used in Wall-E).

Meet Me in St. Louis - Despite the morose clip I posted earlier, Meet Me in St. Louis is a pretty happy film (and, without giving away too much, it has a happy ending). While the story's conflicts seem fairly inconsequential (will the family move? will the boy next door notice Esther?), but this goes along with the idea of looking back to a simpler time.

The Bandwagon - This is a sly backstage musical that doesn't always get the attention it deserves. The awesomely overwrought first attempt at the musical within a musical is hysterical, and Fred Astaire, who was at a Tony Hunter-like point in his career, is dashing even when he exhibits a slight height complex when paired with Cyd Charisse.

One final thought: for those of you who are skeptical of the uplifting possibilities of singing and dancing, you may want to witness Stanley Donen's acceptance speech for the Oscar for Lifetime Achievement. Besides being very humble and gracious, he does a marvelous little number that makes the audience (including Arnold Schwarzenegger) very happy.