' ' Cinema Romantico: Ray of Light

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Ray of Light

If you saw a movie that was like real life
You’d be like, “What the hell was that movie about?
It was really all over the place.”
Life doesn't make narrative sense

Though “The End of the Movie”, the climax to a Season 3 episode of the all-aces television musical “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” was ultimately performed to great comic effect by Josh Groban, an exclusivity cause in his contract, according to the show’s star Rachel Bloom, prevented it from being included on the official soundtrack. But the song, essentially the show’s thesis, was too important to leave off, leading them to include the original demo performed by Adam Schlesinger, who co-wrote “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s” music with Bloom and Jack Dolgen. And those words came to me last night, eerie and right on, in the wake of Schlesinger’s death at the age of 52 from COVID-19. That quick? Like this? I got a terrible feeling we’ll all be asking that question again, whether it’s someone we know or greatly admire from afar, over and over in the coming months. And what can the answer possibly be? I can’t think of anything other than “Life doesn’t make narrative sense.”

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” was, as I have stipulated so many times before, one of, like, five total shows since the turn of the century I’ve watched beginning to end. Our first weekend of self-isolation, My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife and I turned to “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” tunes on Youtube for comfort. We watched “Tell Me I’m Okay, Patrick”, which My Beautiful, Perspicacious Wife adores for its show tune self-awareness, and “Let’s Generalize About Men”, the great lost Bonnie Tyler track, and, of course, “Don’t Be a Lawyer”, so comically cathartic in its fatalism. I think of the couplet “It’d be great to be on the Supreme Court / But you’ll never be on the Supreme Court” as often as “I got a sixty-nine Chevy with a 396 / Fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor.” All these songs, and so many more, epitomize Schlesinger’s knowledge of genre, clever manipulation of form, truths peddled bluntly but wickedly, and unexpected punchlines. You might say the same about his Fountains of Wayne catalogue though others are far more qualified to speak on that subject.

That was true, too, of “That Thing You Do!”, the title track of the 1996 music comedy written and directed by Tom Hanks. Schlesinger convincingly created a one-hit wonder for the movie’s early-sixties pop band. The movie itself, which was Hanks’s feature directorial debut, never did much for me, too polite for its own good, a similar flaw in his eventual follow-up “Larry Crowne”, a far cry from the perceptive tension that Schlesinger so often created in his songs. Still, Schlesinger was a professional and knew how to deliver what the film required. And “That Thing You Do!” required a catchy kind of throwaway, not an homage so much as believably of the movie’s time, like you could have just stuck in rotation on the local oldies station between The Dave Clark Five and The Four Seasons and no one would have noticed. Job done.

The one great scene in “That Thing You Do!” is when all the band members, one by one, and the lead singer’s girlfriend hear their song on the radio for the first time. It is pure, unbridled joy. The scene, I suppose, isn’t really like real life. Life doesn’t make narrative sense. That’s why I want to watch it so much today.

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