Spotlight On: Movie Musicals

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The 89th annual Academy Awards are this weekend, and with La La Land – an original musical – being one of the nominated films gaining a whole lot of traction, I figured we should take a look back at movie musicals of the recent past and how they came to be. Some of these films have also been accepted into the Oscar nominated club, and some haven’t. Opinions on these movie musicals vary, from being beloved by people of all ages to being the center of extreme dislike by those who are sticklers for a faithful adaptation. But the truth is, a movie can’t fit the entire two hour or so plot of a musical into its allotted time frame. Film audiences are completely different than theatre audiences in terms of want they want out of their respective medium and the gratification they get from watching it. While we’re on that subject, let me say now that this is a theatre blog, not a film blog. I don’t claim to be incredibly knowledgeable on the craft of film. So let’s dive into some contemporary movie musicals and how they are adapted from their source material.

Les Misérables (2012)

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This beloved musical originating from the West End was already adapted from Victor Hugo’s classic novel of the same name, so the 2012 film adaptation had quite a lot to live up to. Despite the story’s sprawling history, this adaptation, featuring acclaimed actors like Hugh Jackman (Jean ValJean) and Anne Hathaway (Fantine), went over well relatively well with fans and critics alike. The film contains almost every song from the stage production, save for some lyric changes and shorted songs here and there. Director Tom Hooper was commended for his decision to let the cast sing live on set, instead of lip syncing and recording over the take later. This allowed for more emotional and real moments that the audience could connect to. And these efforts didn’t go unnoticed by the Academy, either. The film was nominated for eight Oscar awards in 2013 and ended up taking home four. Musical or not, this goes to show the true testament of Les Misérables‘s cathartic take on hope and the human spirit.

Rent (2005)

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First premiering Off Broadway in 1996, Rent was a musical that changed the game. It is credited for making the pop/rock style musical popular, a sub genre that is certainly no shortage of in musical theatre today. It was provocative enough for people to pay attention to it and its subject matter that dealt with LGBT characters, drugs abuse, and AIDS/HIV. The 2005 film adaptation was able to satiate its legions of fans by bring back almost the entire original Broadway cast to play their same roles. Despite quite a few songs being cut or shortened – such as “Goodbye Love” and “Halloween” – long time “Rentheads” still keep coming back to this one.

The Last Five Years (2015)

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Based on his personal life, Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years chronicles five years of the relationship of a young couple: Cathy (played by Anna Kendrick in the film), an aspiring actress, and Jamie (Jeremy Jordan), an aspiring writer. In the musical, Cathy’s songs start from the end of her and Jamie’s relationship, and Jamie’s songs are vice versa, allowing for a brief moment in the middle where the two’s respective paths truly cross. This interesting way of storytelling was kept intact for the 2015 film adapation, and it definitely adds another layer of depth to the interactions Cathy and Jamie have. With gorgeous shots and costumes, I’d say this movie musical adaptation is worth a watch.


What are your thoughts on movie musicals? Was there anything I missed? Let me know if I should do a part two on movie musicals in the comments!

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