Movie musicals for someone who doesn't like movie musicals?

Maybe it’s just me, but I find the scheme of typical movie musicals – an ordinary movie except where at some points the stars and supporting cast burst into song and dance instead of dialogue or narrative-- utterly ridiculous. I really have no patience for them because they take me right out of whatever suspension of disbelief I might have and slap me in the face with their unreality.

I have found a few exceptions to this, all in movies that are in large part about music or musical theater. The first musical I remember really liking is All That Jazz, where of course nearly naked hot chicks didn’t hurt either. More recently I’ve found a couple of others. As It Is In Heaven is an Swedish film about retired conductor being more or less drafted into conducting a local community choir. I just saw another in a similar vein – The Concert is a French comedy about a Russian conductor who was forced out of his career during the bad old communist days, and arranges a comeback concert. I thought both were great, or near great, films, if perhaps a bit sappy. Still, since the characters are immersed in music as part of their lives, I’m able to buy into the concept and enjoy them.

So what else should I like?

While there certainly are movie musicals like this, it’s actually not as “typical” as you might think. Musicals where many, if not all, of the song and dance numbers have some kind of in-universe justification, like being part of a concert or play, aren’t rare exceptions, they’ve always been a common type of musical.

I have to say I’ve seen people suddenly burst into song in real life a lot more often than I’ve seen people outrun a huge explosion, but okay. :wink: If you want a musical where no one spontaneously bursts into song without explanation AND if you liked All That Jazz, I’d highly recommend Bob Fosse’s earlier (and more famous) musical Cabaret. One of the main characters, played by Liza Minnelli, is a nightclub performer and there are scenes throughout the movie showing her singing onstage. Otherwise the movie is mostly a drama set during the last days of the Weimar Republic.

In the film version of Chicago, most of the musical numbers are presented as the fantasies of one of the characters, an aspiring nightclub singer. We see characters singing and dancing onscreen, but it’s made clear that this isn’t happening for real aside from a couple of numbers that are actually part of a nightclub act.

I hesitate to recommend it because it’s a very bleak and depressing movie, but Dancer in the Dark also presents its musical numbers as the fantasies of the main character. In this case she’s a factory worker (played by Bjork) who loves movie musicals and daydreams about musical numbers happening around her.

If you don’t like musicals, why bother watching any? Just listen to the soundtracks. Because you either love musicals or you don’t.

OK, I will recommend “Cabaret” which is songs performed in the context of the nightclub, not people bursting into song for no reason. I ADORE “Cabaret”. And “Chicago”.

You beat me to it, Lamia!

Singin’ In The Rain has a blend of spontaneous vs in-context numbers, I’d say

Cabaret is a good one,as mentioned above.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

A golden oldie that IIRC doesn’t have any unexplained bursting into song is 42nd Street (1933). It’s mostly about all the drama going on behind the scenes of a new Broadway show, and all or nearly all of the musical numbers are from the rehearsals or opening night.

A more recent movie that’s probably a love-it-or-hate-it, or maybe a love-it-or-“WTF did I just watch?”, is Todd Haynes’s 1998 Velvet Goldmine. It’s set during the glam rock era and two of the main characters are rock stars loosely based on David Bowie and Iggy Pop. The movie includes covers of real songs from the era as well as a few originals. These are mostly presented in the movie as concert performances and promotional videos. There’s also a brief fantasy sequence near the end.

ETA: I second O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Yeah, I always wonder if people who make this complaint limit their moviewatching to indie, neo-realist, slice-of-life stuff. Because of course MOST movies have completed unrealistic elements! I mean, if you don’t like musicals, you don’t like musicals - fine. But the “unrealistic” argument makes me :dubious:.

Also, it’s been a long, long time since I saw it, but doesn’t even “Cabaret” have a number of songs that are not part of the in-show cabaret?

Do you feel the same way about musical numbers in animated movies—whether Disney cartoons or something like the South Park movie?

Good one!

Moulin Rouge.

I stumbled on a weird 60s movie once, and suddenly they started singing Hey Big Spender. I hadn’t realised it was from a movie. That may have been the day I realised what the song was actually about, which makes me wonder why I recall seeing kids singing it in various Variety Shows on TV.

Moulin Rouge maybe?

To my recollection there’s only one, which I won’t describe in detail because I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, but it involves people singing in a beer garden. So not a cabaret, but still a situation where people might plausibly have a sing-along.

I love Moulin Rouge!, but it has quite a few “suddenly everyone starts singing” numbers.

Most of the Busby Berkeley musicals fit under this criteria; Footlight Parade is a good one.

A Hard Day’s Night certainly fits – the Beatles are either performing or they’re singing in the background (and certainly you don’t object to a music score in a movie).

Of course, musicals aren’t any more about reality than any other film and certainly no more unrealistic than any superhero film. You just have to enjoy it, not think about it, though the unreality of the songs add to the reality of the emotions.

The Replacements is about a bunch of Irish dudes who sing a lot. Or were they Scottish? Either way, it was good.

And there’s always Holiday Inn, where most of the musical numbers make sense in-story.

Hair might fit in your request.

Yeah, but the story is so tongue-in-cheek to begin with, that suspension of disbelief shouldn’t really be an issue.

How about “sung-through” musicals, where the entire story is done as a musical number, with little or no regular speech at all?


South Park The Movie.

Hadn’t thought about a link between the two genres, but generally speaking I don’t like superhero movies either, unless they are clearly tongue in cheek.

Are you thinking of The Commitments, about the creation and breakup of an Irish band? I’d forgotten about that one, and I liked it quite a lot. And it further reminded me of another film about the rise and fall of a band that I liked – The Five Heartbeats.

Little Shop of Horrors.

While not exactly fitting the requirements, LSOH is an odd horror-musical that never takes itself too seriously.

Blues Brothers?