Monday 12 December 2016

Sing (2016) - Movie Review
Ever since the concept of a musical has been in the minds of man, the meta-musical has never been too far behind. Now, in a way, it is perfectly logical: When people spend as long as they do belting out musical numbers on stage, it can start to bleed out into their regular life; as such, putting two and two together just makes sense. Hell, some of the most acclaimed musicals of all time have been meta-musicals like Singin’ In The Rain and Fame. However, as is the case with the lesser forms of metafiction, it can occasionally come across like a deadline-nudging assignment where, when out of feasible ideas, they just work within the barest confines of the narrative to deliver the music. Since we’re dealing with modern-day cinematic sensibilities, and a general inconsistency when it comes to movie musicals, this could honestly go either way. Well, time to see what else Illumination Entertainment has in store for us this year.

The plot: On the verge of losing his theatre, owner Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) plans for a grand show to bring back the audiences and, hopefully, raise enough money to save the theatre: A singing contest. When the word gets out, animals from all over the city sign up for a chance at fame and fortune. However, it seems that the show may be too much for those involved, and Buster’s plan may not be enough to save the theatre.

The cast here is… wow, it is legitimately difficult recognising some of these people, even considering how high-profile they are right now. McConaughey gives a certain affable quality to the very over-his-head theatre owner, selling naiveté and sheer determination quite well, even when his character is going through easily one of the most pathetic displays of anyone on screen this year during the car wash scene. Reese Witherspoon does really well as the dissatisfied housewife, Nick Kroll as her performance partner is nice and scene-stealing, Seth MacFarlane gets an ideal role as the egocentric, swing-crooning mouse and manages to sell it rather well, Scarlett Johansson can now add singer onto her incredible voice-over repertoire, Tori Kelly as the shy Meena does tremendously well at portraying stage fright while also knocking it out of the park musically, Taron Egerton gives unprecedented soul to his gorilla caught between the stage and his family’s criminal enterprise and director/writer Garth Jennings brings some nice comedy to the proceedings as Buster’s secretary Karen.

I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I actively checked the soundtrack listings to make sure who was performing the songs because this is seriously good in its consistency. Even the actors with no real film history in singing do well here. However, more so than the actual talent that has gone into the music here, the big selling point far as I can ascertain is how varied it is overall. When the film starts out, we get a series of performances at the tryouts for the contest that largely play out like punchline snippets that, while occasionally cringe-worthy like the bunnies performing Anaconda, work for the tone they’re trying to set up. As for our proper performers, they all fall within certain niches of music: Rosita and Gunther stick to poppy electronica, Mike sings Sinatra-style swing tunes, Ash gets into pop punk, Meena gets the Aguilera-style ballads to belt out and Johnny channels some oldies piano rock. Some of the covers are played straight, while others are re-contextualised within the narrative to add some decent weight to their performers, but all of it checks out and runs surprisingly smooth alongside each other. Unlike the recently reviewed Trolls, while this may not be as clever in its integration of song and story, this doesn’t rely on a singular tone or style to deliver its music.

Illumination Entertainment, at this point in its career as the company trying to stand up to the titans of Disney/Pixar and Dreamworks, has carved out a decent lane for itself as a throwback to the golden age of animation; a time when pencilled slapstick was king and it wasn’t so heavily involved dramatically speaking so that it was easily accessible. Well, even with how this shows a marked departure from their visual-heavy style of comedy with Despicable Me and even this year’s The Secret Life Of Pets, this honestly feels like a natural progression of that. I mean, there’s a reason why the greatest animated series of the time was called Looney Tunes (or Merry Melodies, or however you wish to remember it): Music played just as big a part as the animation did. As such, going from the more slapsticky style of their previous efforts to one that concentrates on the vocal work and singing in particular definitely works here.

In that same revisionist spirit, and the fact that I Hope I Get It probably wasn’t used in this film because it would’ve been too obvious, this film could have set itself up as a revival of the movie meta-musical… except that would be too easy. Instead, it turns its eye on something a bit more contemporary and, in my opinion, in desperate need of a tune-up: Reality TV singing competitions. It doesn’t matter what country you live in, there will always be something like The X Factor or Idol or even Eurovision running on our screens. Now, even as someone who used to get just as involved as the rest of the world when it comes to these shows, I have grown a serious disdain for them in recent years. And quite frankly, this film illustrates why that is.

Rather than banding together to watch people embarrass themselves on screen (or stage or wherever they happen to be), this film ends up taking that main concept and injects a sense of working class liberation that those shows have been missing for several years now. Seeing these people stuck in the doldrums of their daily lives and then finally get to set themselves free on the stage is quite invigorating, adding a lot of emotion to the already potent singing chops of the cast. It probably helps that this makes the singing rather infectious, so do be careful when leaving the cinema in case having other people overhearing you sing I Can’t Feel My Face bothers you. Or maybe that’s just me.

All in all, this is a very fun and frequently emotional watch, turning the popular singing contest convention on its head and rejuvenating a key part of the equation that has largely gone missing of late. The acting is top-notch, with the singing just soaring across the screen, the music as a whole is well-picked and composed and the writing, while a bit flat in terms of overall plot, puts the music at the front of the stage to create a musical that I wouldn’t mind seeing get an interactive screening in the near future. And even if it doesn’t, I’ll probably just be hosting those for a party of one at my house anyway because it is seriously catchy.

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