Do you want to know one of the many reasons why I dislike the movie Garden State? You do? Well then kind sir or madam, read on. Garden State, and I’ll get to the film at hand here soon enough, utilizes a soundtrack that is so reliant on the lyrical content of the songs that the director actually relies on the words to carry some of the emotional content, at times more so than the plot itself. Why not just make a music video? That’s basically what Baz Luhrman did with Moulin Rouge.
happythankyoumoreplease was directed by Josh Radnor, probably best known for his role as Ted in the TV show How I Met Your Mother. Radnor also wrote the film and stars in it. I wrote a real review of the film for soundonsight.org (link at the end) so I want to talk about things other than the script and the overuse of montages.
I want to talk about Radnor’s use of music. We all like music. All of us. I see you over there shaking your head, but I know you really like it. To his credit, Radnor does not (ala Zach Braff) have his characters comment on the musical selection within the film (Braff: “I love these songs and I want you guys to really know that it’s actually me that loves them. Hurrah!”). The music is really detrimental nonetheless. Sure the lyrics are supposed to match up with the mood, but at least it’s not as exaggerated and important as in Garden State. The major problems with the music in here are a) it’s overused, b) it’s predictable, and c) it tells us an emotion before we feel it.
a): If I see one more slow pan out from behind a wall revealing a 20ish couple lounging on a couch in a not-trendy-but-that’s-why-it’s-trendy NYC loft followed by a slow dissolve to a somewhat matching camera move revealing (gasp) another 20ish couple lounging while music that is cool enough for someone in their early 30s to listen to but that still speaks to an even younger generation spills softly in…I’m going to puke. So many times in here. So many! Stop it. Now.
b): This is a tack on to the above comment. A scene ends. Something dramatic occurs (that’s sort of a lie, as very little drama actually takes place in happythankyoumoreplease). There’s a beat. Radnor’s Sam Wexler stares pensively and vacuously (the operative word for this film) off into the distance, or after Mississippi (Kate Mara), or after Rasheen (Michael Algieri, the child that Sam sort of accidentally kidnaps and then develops a caring relationship for). Sam blinks. And on that blink I know that Radnor’s got nowhere else to go. It’s empty. So…let’s fall back on the music. So predictable. So worthless. Shorten the beat, because it’s not deserved, cut the musical montage, and make somethinghappenplease!
c): These three are all connected. When that musical moment starts I know – even before that dreaded out from the wall pan (let’s be fair. Sometimes it’s a dolly) – what Radnor intends for me to feel. Even before I see the characters. Even before I hear dialogue. Even before anything.
Here’s the thing. There’s nothing wrong with using pop music in a film. There’s nothing wrong with montages. There’s nothing wrong with music intentionally contradicting, helping, easing, etc an emotion. There is something wrong with the music being the primary source – beyond the script, beyond the actors, beyond the camera – of tension, drama and emotion. Just put the soundtrack on.
Here’s that review if you want to read more about my dislike for this film: