Friday, 27 April 2012

The Sweetest Thing

Charity and Oscar.
Sweet Charity is the funny, entertaining and sad story of Charity Hope Valentine, a dancer trying to find love and happiness in New York City. I wanted to see this film after my dance school show, where some of the best numbers were set to songs from this musical comedy, directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse, director of Caberet and Chicago . (Anyone else sensing the theme here?) It surprised me by as well as being an enjoyable musical with great dancing, singing and costumes; it was a story that really touched your heart and if, like me, you get ridiculously emotionally attached to characters, you may well find yourself having a good cry by the end!
Without too many spoilers, although I think it’s quite well known so you may already know the ending, the film is set in a New York dance club and Charity and her friends are dancers who are paid to dance with “escorts.” It took me a while to work out whether or not they were actually prostitutes, because I was surprised at the level of disapproval in their career choices if they were only dancers! So although I’ve only watched it once and on another viewing I might spot more subtle references to this, I didn’t think there was any point where they were explicitly said to be selling sex. But that’s just my interpretation.
The dancers in "Hey Big Spender!"
Charity is known for falling in love too easily, with a series of men that all turn out to be essentially as Holly Golightly would say “your average rat or super-rat.” The events of the movie are set off by her being pushed into a river by one of these guys, which causes her to start looking for a better life. She ends up spending the evening with a famous movie star and one of my favourite bits of the film was the hilarious dance scene in his mansion where she dances with a hat and cane to “If My Friends Could See Me Now!” Personally I think it’s worth watching the whole film for this (quite long) scene.

I loved Charity’s personality as she was really clumsy and goofy and in those ways reminded me of myself (as anyone who knows me will confirm I am always the one to knock something over or fall over my own feet!) this clumsiness was incorporated in a clever way into the dance routines making them a bit more individual than the average musical dance number and another thing that made this movie stand out a bit more. Shirley Maclean was also a very convincing actress and you root for Charity to find the love and better life that she so desperately wants.
Unfortunately this is not to be, and the moment when she realises this is really sad and powerful as it shows how very little she is able to change in her own life and how much she was relying on the classic Disney Princess happy-ever-after in which her Prince Charming sweeps her off her feet to come along. I think this makes Sweet Charity a much more interesting film as it explores what happens when that doesn’t work out and how powerless Charity is in her own life. For me though the most tragic scene was her calling her friends and realising her pride is too strong to go back to her old life. I think if she had ended up back as a dancer the audiences would have felt a bit cheated as it is a long film and you feel that there must be some development in her character or some change must have taken place otherwise there was no point to the rest of the film; other than her realising how difficult it is to change anything.
Finally, I was both impressed and sad by the fact that this film passes the Bechdel Test. If you don’t know about this basically it is three questions that determine how representative of women the film you’re watching is:

Charity with her friends in "There's
Gotta Be Something Better Than This!"
 1) Does it have at least two named female characters?
(Yes - Charity, her friends Nickie and Helene, also the movie star's girlfriend Ursula)
 2) Do they talk to one another? (Yes - at the dance club where they work)
 3) Do they talk about anything besides a male character? (Yes - their dreams, hopes and careers)
I bet until I got to the last one you were thinking “What is she talking about? I can think of loads of films that pass this... oh wait.”  Try it now and I promise you it’s a lot harder than you think. Anyway, I think it’s sad that a film made in 1969 represents female characters better than many current movies. That said, it's a classic film and a must-see if you love musicals!
Hope you enjoyed the review - please leave any comments below!
Jessica x
A little addition to this post for you -  I just learnt from a post over at The Film Experience, that Sweet Charity is an adaptation of Nights of Cabiria by Frederico Fellini. I had never heard of this film so I'll definately have to watch it at some point. Here's the link:
I'd love to hear what you think about either Nights of Cabiria, Sweet Charity or the Juliette Lewis remake. Jessica x

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