Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sing It Like You Mean It

I don't get to go to the theatre that often, so when I do, I usually don't want to go see some kids movie. Don't get me wrong, there are some great animated films out there (see: The Incredibles), but typically, these types of "family friendly" films are geared more towards kids than families, with a few "adult" jokes thrown in to try and keep the parents from gouging their eyes out in boredom and frustration, which, to the studios' credit, has a decently high success rate. Especially considering that taking a family of four to the movies, including tickets and concession, is somewhere in the sixty to seventy dollar range, it's rubbing salt in the wound when I also have to shell out that kind of cash for a movie I have zero desire to see. Cue the "Won't somebody think of the children!" Simpsons meme here.

Sing, the latest and greatest from Illumination Entertainment, seemed even less appealing to me as it seemed from the trailers and everything I had read that it was little more than an excuse to show animated, anthropomorphic animals singing pop hits from both past and present. I tried to push the kids towards Moana, which seemed like it had landed among Disney's more palatable fare, or a second theatrical outing to Rogue One, but I was outvoted by both the kids and wife. I'm not sure when the fuck this family became a democratic republic, but I followed my typical strategy in most social situations: go along quietly, bide my time, and implement a silent campaign of espionage and misinformation, manipulating events until the perfect time to strike.

Better late than never. Thank you Internet gods for this bounty.
As a father, I'm always conscious that I'm modelling behaviour for my kids, and I try to conduct myself accordingly, and so I wanted to show them that compromise is an important part of any relationship and that you can display dignity in the face of defeat. So, after I locked myself in my office for half an hour--stomping around, screaming muffled obscenities into a pillow, and adding certain names to my Enemies List--I emerged, dignity in tact and my once and future serfs none the wiser.

It was a Tuesday evening during Christmas break, so needless to say an animated film like Sing was going to be fairly well attended. I had budgeted for for extra time to get to the theatre across town (for which I had received a gift card for Christmas) as well as to procure popcorn and other requisite snacking accoutrements that would form the backbone of our supplies for our campaign. (Supplemented, of course, by another supply train procured earlier by way of my wife's purse.)

As luck would have it, the excursion wouldn't turn out to be a total bust, as it turns out that Galaxy Cinemas had a deal to get a special edition Star Wars cup and topper, a detail Landmark had egregiously overlooked. There were a host of characters from the new movie to choose from, but I had to go with Darth Vader.

Be careful not to choke on
your root beer.
"Shut up and take my money!" I told the minimum wage popcorn jockey behind the counter. If I'm going to have my wallet buttfucked by the local theatre, then the least they can do is provide some sort of cheap, plastic memorabilia for me to keep for posterity.

"Oh man, I would have picked K-2SO. He was the best character in the movie."

Likewise, this meat sack was the best character in the theatre. I couldn't help but wonder whether this unnecessarily friendly movie clerk was just another CGI character like so many other background people I passed by in the streets. Could I even tell the difference anymore?

After a quick detour to the wrong theatre (Our friendly neighbourhood clerk had accidentally sold us tickets to Passengers, a sci-fi romantic drama set in space, which in no way could have been mistaken for Sing, an animated film about crooning animals, either in content or phonetically by title.) we managed to stake a claim and ready ourselves for the onslaught. Even on a seemingly casual expedition like this, the theatre was no place for weak constitutions or weak bladders. As a gauntlet testing the endurance of the audience's buttocks as much as their intestinal fortitude, any sign of weakness in any crowd increased your chances of being mauled to death by the mob, however slightly.

There's no fucking way I was going to die pecked to death with sticky fingers from a bunch of snot-nosed kids. I'd sooner allow my bladder to rupture causing a prolonged and painful death by internal bleeding and sepsis than give these bastards so much as a syllable on my epitaph.

Finally, after an endless barrage of trailers, and now commercials, the lights dimmed, and we were bombarded with Sing, the latest from Illumination Entertainment, the studio that brought us Despicable Me (and now apparently two fucking sequels!), and subsequently the one-note joke turned into a feature film / crime against humanity under the Geneva Convention, Minions.

Needless to say, I was not expecting to be blown away by Sing.

Pictured: The new contender for the Minions' crown of
Most Annoying and Simultaneously Most Extraneous Character.
And I wasn't, really. Nor was I left wanting to pierce my skull with a rusty railroad spike like I would be after listening to the Minions' helium-high-pitched, garbled nonsense for an hour and a half straight. Sing was a basic, middle-of-the-road animated feature which was obviously trying to stretch a very simple premise out for the span of its hundred-and-eight-minute run time.

Basically, independent businessman / ex-pat koala Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) is trying to reinvigorate his struggling theatre (the live kind not the movie kind) with a singing competition  open to the public. It's basically American Idol but with animals instead of people and a decade too late to be relevant. It's such a wholly unoriginal premise that one of the characters in the movie actually makes mention of this very same fact. Nobody bothered to tell the writers that simply acknowledging unoriginality does not cancel out that unoriginality any more than saying "Beetlejuice" three times will make Michael Keaton magically appear (at least not since his recent career renaissance).

Like most Hollywood execs, Moon is completely undeterred by the unoriginality of his scheme, which would make for some interesting meta-commentary if the film makers seemed aware of that irony in the slightest. Moon doesn't have a lot of cash on hand, but manages to scrape together a thousand dollar cash prize to draw in contestants, but due to a typo on the flyer, the public is led to believe that the prize is actually a hundred thousand dollars, which brings every twisted weirdo out of the woodwork up to and including Seth MacFarlane.

Although Sing was overall a forgettable affair, I couldn't help identify with McConaughey's Buster Moon, the middle-aged working class guy who had worked his butt off to fulfill his dreams only to have those dreams come crashing down around him, both figuratively and literally as Mike--the hustling, hard-drinking, gambling, sexually promiscuous, callous, insensitive mouse voiced by Seth MacFarlane--gets the russian bear mob involved in part of a half-conceived subplot that was shoehorned in to make sure we reached the genre-required crisis point for the main character(s) to rebound from.

I mean, it's a children's film, so of course it ends on a positive note with the theatre being rebuilt and whatnot, but it's almost inevitable that Moon is going to fail miserably again. And it's not the character's fault. He worked his ass off, begged, borrowed, and stole to make sure his business and his dream stayed afloat, but he was crushed by the weight of an unforgiving world that doesn't give one single fuck about intentions.

The other character that struck a chord (to coin a phrase) was Rosita (voiced by Reese Witherspoon), the (literally) porcine housewife who gave up her dreams and settled down into a life of domestic bliss. Even though I'm not a woman, or a pig, or Reese Witherspoon's disembodied voice, I can still relate to being pulled into the typical social narrative scripts and the feeling of disillusionment as you realize that you're probably not going to be able to get paid to do what you love. The truth is that dreams of fortune and glory turn out to be just dreams for the vast majority of us, and part of life is reconciling expectations with reality.

But another part is keeping your eyes open for those few transcendent moments that come along and riding the highs when they do come. As predictable as the end of the movie was, when all of the animal contestants who had been duped into performing with the promise of financial remuneration of a considerable scale for most working- and middle-class folks reunite to perform their musical numbers just for the love of what they were doing, it was hard not to feel a twinge of something.

It's a weird message considering the context. We're being fed this idea of being content in embracing our dreams in whatever form they take by a bunch of people who have, for the most part, basically achieved their dreams; they're in high-profile jobs getting paid more than a decent living to do what they enjoy doing and adored--or at least validated--by millions of people. It's hard not to be at least a little cynical about the message of a movie that promotes following your dreams for the sake of following your dreams, financial consequences be damned, when the message is delivered by a bunch of people who (for the most part) don't actually have to worry about money the way the vast majority of the audience does.

I'm not against following your dreams. I'm just at a point in my life where it's become clear that there's probably not a way to achieve said dreams in a financially sustainable way. It's a strange intersection of cynicism and acceptance bred only with the passage of time and unhindered by simplistic messages of hope.


Sing is basically a one-note film based on an incredibly simple premise about singing animals, which makes sense considering director Garth Jennings' extensive background directing music videos. I wasn't impressed by Sing, only his third feature-length endeavour, but I'm still stoked to check out Son of Rambow, which sounds pretty sweet. Final verdict, I give Sing a 4/10 = Three Disappointed Rabbit Heads Disbanding and Going Their Own Separate Ways


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