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Posted by martinteller on October 6, 2012

Sonny Malone (Michael Beck) is an aspiring artist, but he’s stuck in an unsatisfying job painting blowups of album sleeves for record store promotions.  A beautiful woman named Kira (Olivia Newton-John) roller-skates up to him in the park, plants a kiss on him, and vanishes.  A few minutes later, she appears on his next assignment.  It’s love at first sight.  Around the same time, he meets Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly), an old clarinet player from the Glenn Miller orchestra.  McGuire still yearns for his old flame — who mysteriously happens to look a whole lot like Kira — and dreams of opening a snazzy nightclub.  The two men combine their talents and their passions, and with the help of their “muse” Kira (is it still considered a “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” when her father is Zeus?) they set out to convert an abandoned venue into “Xanadu”.

After watching so much heavy stuff lately, I needed something goofy to cleanse my palate.  I couldn’t have made a goofier selection.  I’ve been aware of it since I was a kid, of course, but ignored it because of its reputation as a colossal bomb.  Then I saw a clip of it in the documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself and was intrigued.  And here I am, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Just about everything about this film could be summed up with: totally cheesy and totally amazing.  It’s so earnest that it has no idea how ridiculous it is, it just plows ahead with giddy abandon.  The plot is a mere wisp of a thing, but so adorably corny and feel-good that I got swept up in it.  Beck is not much of a leading man and has little chemistry with ONJ, but somehow you believe he’s a serious artist and that she truly falls for him.  The neon special effects are cheap and dated in a way that any child of the 80’s would embrace.  The lyrics to the songs are trite, but in a way that makes you love them.  On that note, all the songs are by Newton-John, Electric Light Orchestra and The Tubes… none of whom I regularly enjoy, but whose contributions here I really dug.  The dialogue is terrible and the jokes are corny.  I loved it all anyway.

This movie has such infectious joy to it.  It’s pulling out all the stops to dazzle and entertain you, and its glorious excesses are irresistibly charming.  I spent most of the film with a huge grin on my face.  Some people lament that this was Kelly’s last film, but I found him to be a joy in it, and his dance with Olivia is terrific.  And during the insane, wonderfully over-the-top finale (jugglers! tightrope walkers! Gene Kelly on roller skates!) my mouth literally hung open with delight.  There’s so much nuttiness — including an animated sequence by Don Bluth — that it never gets boring for a minute.  The visual style is so delirious that I wanted to screenshot the entire movie.

Maybe it’s because I was so much in the mood for something happy.  Maybe it’s because it brought back fond memories of the roller discos from my youth.  Maybe I was blinded by all the leg warmers, dayglo colors, deco design and satin… or Newton-John’s bright smile and girl-next-door sexiness.  Or maybe this movie delivers a certain kind of happiness that appeals to me.  The rare treat of a movie so eager to please that it actually succeeds.  Rating: Masterpiece (95)


4 Responses to “Xanadu”

  1. JamDenTel said

    Hmm. I just might need to give this one a fresh look.

    • It might be too 70’s/80’s-tastic for you. I admit that a lot of its appeal is camp appeal, but I truly did enjoy it immensely.

      • Anonymous said

        Maybe, but I’d like to think its spirit could shine through–or that I could at least watch it without all of the external baggage heaped upon it.

  2. JamDenTel said

    Maybe, but I’d like to think its spirit could shine through–or that I could watch it again, this time without the external baggage heaped upon it.

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