Each day this month (assuming I don’t get busy or bored!), I’ll reflect on a tiny sliver of pop culture that I enjoyed or appreciated this year — scenes, shots, gestures, verses, sights, sounds, moments. Today: a showstopper from Sing Street that doesn’t stop the show, but deepens it.
Enjoyed on its own, “Drive It Like You Stole It” is a rollicking slice of 80s rock-tinged power pop, complete with an opening blast of synthesizers, a mid-song guitar breakdown and passionate vocals. It’s as catchy as actual songs from that time period, thanks in part to its credited writer Gary Clark, the frontman of 80s band Danny Wilson and a veteran producer.
Paired with visuals in writer-director John Carney’s exuberant musical Sing Street, the song takes on an even grander sweep. The scene pays loving homage to the finale of Back to the Future, in which Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) straps on a guitar and introduces a crowd of unsuspecting 50s kids to the raw power of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” In this movie, lead singer and recent public school convert Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) has a simpler goal in mind than reversing the decline of the time-space continuum: He wants to impress a girl, Raphina (Lucy Boynton). The spectacle of Cosmo and his band of diminutive but prodigal teens seems like a no-brainer route to romance.
Disney’s Frozen has all of the signifiers of another tired princess retread. A gorgeous young woman sets off an epic quest that hinges on the pursuit of true love’s kiss. She’s joined by a cadre of wacky sidekicks – in this case, a gruff iceman, a friendly snowman and a terse reindeer. Along the way, she encounters unfamiliar creatures, battles the forces of evil and eventually (spoiler alert, though not really) saves the world and restores the kingdom to peace and prosperity. Oh, and true love’s kiss and stuff.
But look closely at the beating heart of Frozen, and you’ll find just enough intriguing subversions of the formula to justify a return to these tropes. Princess Anna (Kristen Bell) rarely fulfills the role of damsel in distress, especially once she’s gotten used to interacting with actual human beings after years secluded in a cavernous castle. The forces of evil aren’t misunderstood monsters hungry for power, but the internal confusions of a young woman struggling with powers she doesn’t fully understand. True love’s kiss comes in many forms, romance ultimately proving to be insufficient. And in the end, it’s not the valiant prince that saves the day, but the power of well-established familial connections.
Art is all about timing. It’s not enough to be talented or creative or passionate or hungry. As much as art is an expression of an individual, it’s produced to be appreciated by others, and others have fickle tastes. The most successful artists apply their talents to some sort of hunger for the work they’re creating. When the timing isn’t just right, though, artists struggle.
Llewyn Davis struggles. The title character in the Coen Brothers’ beautifully crafted, quietly hopeless Inside Llewyn Davis chases after cats, slums for hitmakers, treks across the country, incurs the wrath of his female companions, and sings, softly and loudly, forcefully and listlessly, energetically and exhaustedly, in the hopes that someone, anyone, will see what he sees in himself: a man with a voice that freezes time. But again and again, he runs up against one of life’s most frustrating truisms: sometimes, you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time.