Tuesday, September 27, 2005

BABY, IT’S YOU (1983) - John Sayles

If the fifty states had to choose a state movie much like they do a state flower or bird, then I’d say Baby, It’s You would have to be on the New Jersey short list. It’s about a mismatched relationship between an upper-middle class Jewish girl in the 1960s Jersey suburbs who wants to be an actress (Rosanna Arquette) and a lower-class goombah who wants to be Frank Sinatra (Vincent Spano). It’s Romeo and Juliet by way of Trenton, except Juliet’s not really that into Romeo and Romeo lip synchs all his soliloquies to the tune of “Strangers in the Night.”
 
That is, when The Boss is not blaring behind him. And by The Boss I do mean Springsteen. Lots and lots of Springsteen.
 
Granted, there’s no more Jersey-appropriate musician to put on a soundtrack than The Boss. The problem is, this movie takes place in the mid to late 60s. Greetings from Asbury Park didn’t even come out until ’73. Yet when we first see Vincent Spano as “the Shiek,” he’s prowling the high school cafeteria to the first strains of “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City.” This threw me 1) because it’s one of my favorite songs and I had yet to hear it in a movie and 2) every other song in the movie up to then had been decade appropriate (60s girl groups, Doo-Wop etc.).
 
I have to admit it bothered me. It felt forced…like this sweetly realistic '60s nostalgia movie was suddenly being given an explosive Springsteen enema. Then it happens a few more times with “Jungleland” and “E Street Shuffle.” Then there’s the “Adam Raised a Cain” fueled montage of Spano angrily driving from Florida to Jersey in one day to reunite with Arquette at her uptight all girls’ college. By that point, even a person who’d only heard “Born in the USA” would have to realize…this movie’s got a serious Springsteen agenda.
 
And I understand why. Sayles is from New Jersey, and he obviously worships The Boss. He uses his music frequently and directed, what, maybe three or four of his best music videos? But it’s too on-the-nose. And sometimes, you have to show some restraint and keep your mix tapes out of the movie if they don’t really fit. Otherwise, you’re treading into Wes Anderson The Life Aquatic waters -- bad movie made to support a great soundtrack -- and risk capsizing the whole film. There was a good article by Cameron Crowe in this Sunday’s LA Times about this very thing.
 
If Spano’s whole character revolves around his Sinatra-fixation, then why didn’t he come into the cafeteria, say, to the first strains of “My Way.” It takes a certain type of actor (and a certain type of man) to sell that moment; walking into a place on the prowl backed by a blaring and supposedly character-defining vocal. Brando, DeNiro, Pacino…but Spano? And to the Boss, no less? It made me lose faith in the character right from the first frame. Arquette’s character, on the other hand, was solid the whole through. I bought her completely. But maybe that’s because she never entered a girl’s locker room to the primal yowl of Patti Smith.

1 comment:

Jordan Hoffman said...

My least favorite John Sayles film.