I HAVE BUT ONE SONG
Main Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon
Director: Garth Jennings
Well dear readers, I hate to say it but the opening of Love Potion Number Ten has been indefinitely delayed. The first preview had gone swimmingly up until the problematic Act One finale when disaster again overwhelmed our little production. I began my hip hop rap about love being in the air (Love is great, love is grand, love can give you all a hand, listen to our happy band who we have paid a Krugerrand, our happy time’s no longer banned so join with me and take a stand…) and on that last word I rose into the air over our set representing the tidal basin and the Jefferson Memorial while cherry blossom petals rained down. At least that was the theory. It didn’t quite turned out as planned.
The petals in the air cannons set to fire over the audience had been looking a little dingy after the rehearsal period so I had Leah, head of my consumer products division, run on back to Casa Maine for several cans of ‘Petal Pink’ paint from the Les Couleurs de Vicki Lester collection and add a bit to each of the payloads to give them that gloss and sparkle for which I am so famous. Unfortunately, we miscalculated the amount of time necessary for the paint to dry. When the cannons went off, rather than a gentle blanket of petals drifting down on an adoring audience, there were gobs of pink paint splattering elegant first nighters and the petals had congealed into hardened balls which caused a number of contusions and other minor injuries. It was quite a sight to see from my harness as I flew over the audience’s heads during the carnage.
It took a number of hours to clear the theater of emergency crews and the dry cleaning bill for the upholstery on the seats is going to be astronomical. After being unhooked from my harness and DeWolfe, our producer announcing an indefinite postponement of the production, Leah and I decided to quietly slip out the back, taking some empty paint cans with us before any unpleasant questions could be asked. I did chide her on the trip back to Casa Maine that we really need to look into a new quick dry formula. Once back, I was simply exhausted so I decided to put my feet up in the home theater with a film so I poured myself a teeny-weeny triple single malt scotch and snuggled into a seat.
Theater destruction being somewhat on my mind, I decided the time was right to pop in the DVD of last years animated film, Sing, from Illumination Entertainment. Sing is one of the new non-Disney animated features that takes place in an all animal universe somewhere close to Zootopia. The various species seem to have been chosen in order to execute visual jokes and to provide simple tropes as a shorthand to the parental generation regarding character and situation, not for consistency in ecological niche. Anyway, our hero, Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) is a koala bear who runs the local live performance theater. His production company has fallen on hard times leaving him with little but creditors and an aging chameleon office assistant with a glass eye (Garth Jennings). The eye ends up playing a major plot function that I will not divulge here. In a last ditch attempt to gain an audience, Buster decides to stage an American Idol type singing contest which attracts a motley assortment of contestants including Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a pig with too many piglets and an oblivious husband, Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a grunge porcupine in a bad relationship, Mike (Seth MacFarlane), a white mouse with a Frank Sinatra fetish, Johnny (Taron Egerton), a sensitive young gorilla from the wrong family, and Meena (Tori Kelly), an elephant with a bad self-confidence problem. The contestants go into rehearsal for what Buster promises will be a truly spectacular show but, in true Mickey and Judy fashion, everything goes wrong as they try to put on their show resulting in the literal destruction of the theater. Will they be able to pull it together to deliver a knock out performance? Will Buster get his money and his reputation back? Will Buster’s friend Eddie (John C. Reilly), the failed son of great lineage, have the connections to help them all out? If you can’t figure it all out, you haven’t seen any backstage musical produced over the last century.
Sing was written and directed by Britisher Garth Jennings, best known for directing the not very good film version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy from a dozen years ago. He does a relatively capable job of keeping all the balls in the air and the film reeks of being a labor of love and having been pushed and nurtured for years. Once green lit, he seems to have decided to throw every idea he ever had into 110 minutes of film. This is the film’s fatal flaw. It has a terminal case of ADHD. Every time it has a good idea or an interesting situation or a good song, we’re rocketing along to a new scene or a new bit and there’s no moments that allow the film or the audience to just breathe. The film is also visually over the top. Every computer animation trick is on display and frame after frame is stuffed with detail or the camera is zooming along the streets of the animal city at breakneck speed. I wouldn’t try to watch this film in 3-D as it may induce a major case of motion sickness.
On the plus side, the voice casting is spot on. The actors do their own singing and bring a lot of heart into their numbers. The score is all over the map, mainly pop songs of the last decade or so including Katy Perry’s Firework and Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe, but also include standards such as My Way and the Beatles’ Golden Slumbers. There are also some sweet messages at the core of the story which resonate. Sing explores why people are drawn to the magic of musical theater and how it can be a life changing experience. It allows us to see how the characters who are misfits in their usual lives can find full actualization through performance and each other. Anyone who has participated in a successful theatrical performance will recognize those feelings.
In the end, I ended up enjoying Sing quite a lot. It’s overly busy. Not all the bits work. There’s some lazy writing that relies on clichés rather than original ideas. But it’s sweet souled and has positive things to say about the power of music and theater to bring good things to life and that’s an important message for troubled times. The kids will love the silly animals but there’s enough working on other levels to keep parents and grandparents entertained.
Misprinted fliers. Gorilla bank job. Imperious grand sheep. Paper moon. Bioluminescent sea creatures. Treasure box. Gratuitous weird Japanese singing group. Sinatra stylings. Lunch assembly line. German pig dancing.