Cinematic theatrics: A LaGravenese musical?

This holiday weekend I saw some movies on the big screen (Indiana Jones and the blah blah Crystal Skull – exactly what you think it would be, enjoyable but nothing more; Iron Man, which made me love Robert Downey Jr. all over again – oddly more human than Indiana Jones) and at home.

One of the movies I watched at home was P.S. I Love You, a movie I had avoided in theaters because the review chatter was so negative. Why do I listen to reviews? I know better. My mother loved the movie, which should have been my first indication that I should see it. And it was co-written and directed by Richard LaGravenese, the man responsible for one of my favorite movies of all time: Living Out Loud, which is inspired by two Anton Chekhov short stories (“The Kiss” and “Misery”). LaGravenese also co-wrote another favorite, the 1995 adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess directed by Alfonso Cuaron.

One of the things I love about Living Out Loud, A Little Princess and now P.S. I Love You is their use of music. LaGravenese clearly cares about music. He doesn’t just throw pop songs haphazardly onto the screen. He practically writes musicals, but they’re cleverly disguised as straightforward movies. In Living Out Loud, Queen Latifah is a nightclub singer, and actually demonstrates her chops by singing some standards (“Lush Life,” “Goin’ Out of My Head”), and there are a couple scenes in which leading lady Holly Hunter is lifted by music: once (on Ecstasy) at a lesbian dance club and once to the strains of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime.”

Here’s the Ecstasy scene from Living Out Loud:

A Little Princess is a musical in many ways, even if the young stars aren’t singing and dancing around. Patrick Doyle’s enchanting score includes some beautiful songs, though they’re on the soundtrack rather than in the characters’ mouths.

In P.S. I Love You, even star Hilary Swank sings (albeit in a karaoke bar – the one way modern audiences will accept characters breaking into song), as does her leading man, Gerard Butler (whose varied film career includes the title role of Phantom of the Opera and the gladiator epic 300). The movie’s soundtrack includes some great songs by the likes of Flogging Molly, the Pogues (with the divine Kirsty MacColl),Toby Lightman and a band I have discovered great affection for, Camera Obscura. Even co-star Nellie McKay (a formidable singer-songwriter-actress whom you should check out if she’s unknown to you) gets to sing the title song. I could have done without the James Blunt song, but that’s just me.

So my point here is that Richard LaGravenese should just go ahead and make a musical already. It appears that among his next projects is the film adaptation of Douglas Carter Beane’s hilarious play As Bees in Honey Drown (rumored to star Cate Blanchett). That’s wonderful. But how about an honest-to-God LaGravenese musical? Now that’s the movie I want to see.

Here’s a montage from A Little Princess set to the song “Kindle My Heart.”

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