Wednesday, August 3, 2011

29. "Wise Up" from Magnolia

What the hell, right?  The surprise musical number, totally out of the blue in an otherwise non-musical movie, though granted, one that stretches suspension of disbelief a tad farther with scenes like the infamous plague of frogs.  Now, it helps that I'm a self-avowed Aimee Mann fanatic, and her contributions are probably the best thing going for this impossible object from the mind of Paul Thomas Anderson, but I'll maintain that this is a rare moment; for Anderson, for musicals, and for ensemble driven narratives everywhere.  Sobering and monotonous, it's somehow exactly what the narrative calls for at the time, an abstract (and vital?) strand to draw together the fragmented stories of PTAs many wayward souls.  There's no "Aha!" moment here, but it does serve as some neat stitching between these patches of life, a common harmony that everyone, old or young, on edge physically or mentally, can all seem to agree on.

If "Wise Up" violates my sacred rule of the Spectacle, I clearly don't care.  I'd still argue it is, though in a quiet way, and if for no other reason than its unlikely juxtaposition in the narrative.  There's a better, fresher, lesson to be learned here for movie musicals than in nearly every staple of the genre since at least the late 70s.  The musical, as a genre, need not be something a film must fully commit to.  Rather, to songs (and actors) to effective use, one that serves the larger purposes of the story - that's the greater challenge.  This one here may be a better song than a dance number, but like any great musical set-piece, it moves the story, and like any great movie scene, it moves me.

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