Tom Gustafson and Cory Krueckeberg’s masterful adaptation of Michael John LaChiusa’s 1993 musical is a jubilant tour-de-force through love, lust, and the human desire for connection.
Mention musical-movies to anyone and they’ll tell you to watch La La Land; the movie currently dominating the public psyche when it comes to love songs, film, and love songs in film. But La La Land’s time in the sun is over – Hello Again is now undoubtedly the strongest contender for the otherwise sparsely-contested musical-movie throne, and when its wide release opens in the US and UK, I have no doubt that it will blow audiences away to the point that they may not even remember that the former film existed.
Hello Again may not be helmed by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, but boasts serious star power nonetheless, with names like Martha Plimpton, Audra McDonald, and Glee alumnus Jenna Ushkowitz. Set in New York across ten different time periods, the film focuses on ten different episodes of love and lust between ten different couples of varying sexualities, each with their own quirks and problems that are hilarious as they are poignant. In the 20s, an unfaithful woman is desperate to help her clandestine lover achieve an erection in spite of his sexual impotence. At the height of the Vietnam War in 1967, a young East Asian nurse strategically seduces her pampered charge. Aboard the Titanic, a lonely older man withholds the fact that the ship is sinking so that his young beau will stay with him a little longer, while elsewhere, an ambitious senator attempts to please her lover, an actress, while also maintaining the perfect public image. These are just four of the ten stories that take place over Hello Again’s runtime, and when put together into one film, these seemingly disconnected stories begin to reveal their one unifying factor – they are all unique, distinctive reflections of the collective human desire to love and be loved.
La La Land’s time in the sun is over – Hello Again is now undoubtedly the strongest contender for the otherwise sparsely-contested musical-movie throne
The fragmented nature of the stories’ time periods is, surprisingly, Hello Again’s biggest strength. Each couple is clearly a product of their own time, and the movie’s sets and costumes were clearly spared no expense in order to lavishly reproduce the decadence of each era. But the struggles that each couple goes through are ones that resound through the fabric of time itself, and are hardly alien to its audience rooted in the twenty-first century. None of the couples have an overtly “happy” ending either, allowing for the film’s slew of sexual and romantic scenes to remain unobtrusive, instead of becoming overly obnoxious, much like the filmic equivalent of that young couple on the tube who won’t stop making out in public. Hello Again, unlike other musical-movies about love, does not make a point of dishing out romance like it is a dying art – rather, it takes the ideas of romance and sex, and then casually subverts them with modern, unique twists.
Hello Again also boasts musical numbers that conform to the time periods they are set in, which means that it swaps traditional musical honky-tonk pianos and stereotypical major cadences for syncopated jazz beats, camp 70’s club music, and even the driving bassline of a noughties’ pop song. Each song is a story in itself – there is a power ballad for the young wife whose husband has neglected her after a year of marriage, and a skittish dancehall tune for the one-night-only encounter between a soldier and an army nurse. This lack of stylistic coherence musically even works to its advantage, as audiences are treated to a fully immersive depiction of love across the ages. It helps, too, that each musical number is incredibly catchy in its own right, and will even have more musically-inclined members of the audience tapping their feet to the beat with careless abandon.
a true cinematic experience; one that provides real food for thought on the topics of love and the ideal but unachievable concept of true romance
The strength of Hello Again’s talented cast is also certainly to thank for this. Rumer Willis, Al Calderon, and Jenna Ushkowitz especially shine in their roles, and handle perhaps the strongest and most unique compositions in the musical with graceful aplomb. Also noteworthy is Cheyenne Jackson’s snide-beyond-belief performances as a self-absorbed filmmaker and a vain music producer, and of course, Broadway legend Audra McDonald’s striking onscreen desperation as a senator’s secret lover. There is also something to be said for the inclusivity and representation of couples across the ages – heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality are all either explicit or alluded to over the course of the film, at many different time periods, which thankfully does not fall into the typical Hollywood trap of implying that LGBT+ individuals only came into existence in the 1980s. When put into context – director and screenwriter Tom Gustafson and Cory Krueckeberg are long-term partners who live together and regularly collaborate – this is understandable, but Hello Again should nonetheless set a shining example of representation in film today.
I was almost unspeakably sad when Hello Again ended, and the credits began to roll. As demonstrated by my fellow audience members’ hearty applause at the end of the screening, the film was a true cinematic experience; one that provides real food for thought on the topics of love and the ideal but unachievable concept of true romance. To all those who claim that musicals are dead, or that La La Land is the pinnacle of films with musicality – well, they clearly haven’t seen Hello Again.
‘Hello Again’ is now playing at the Raindance Film Festival 2017, taking place from 20th September to 1st October. Information and tickets here.
Image: Raindance Film Festival 2017