15 August 2009 | dougdoepke
More Talent Than Results
Admittedly, I'm not the best judge of musicals, but this one seems disappointing given the level of talent involved. Visually, Garland and Rooney make a cute couple-- a match clearly made in malt shop heaven. And, even though I was disappointed, I can understand Garland's enduring appeal. She's definitely an incandescent presence, and one that doesn't come from just acting the part. On the other hand, Rooney is energetic and I can see him organizing a high school band. However, that energy too often becomes manic—for example, check out his conducting the orchestra at movie's end for sheer pointless delirium. Too often, his in- your-face high spirits comes across as more obnoxious than entertaining.
I guess my biggest disappointment is with the musical numbers. Berkeley's dancing phalanxes are eye-catching as usual, but there's not a single catchy tune to hang your hat on. The numbers are simply not up to Garland's level of show-stopping talent, whatever the reason. Then there's the overlong melodrama skit that unfortunately saps momentum by coming in the middle. On the other hand, the musical fruit sketch sounds silly but is really charming and well done. Also, professional musician Paul Whiteman turns out to be a pretty darn good actor. And for those interested in what those times were like, it's a chance to see what teens circa-1940 thought was "cool". Having your own dance band was clearly near the top. At the same time, the message seems to be that dance bands deserve respect, while playing in one is indeed a legitimate goal in life. Looks like controversies over music didn't start with rock-and-roll.