Can’t wait for Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’? Here are 3 new musicals you can stream in February
It’s a good time for fans of movie musicals. In the wake of La La Land (and amid the enduring popularity of Hamilton), filmmakers are developing musicals at an impressive rate — including director Steven Spielberg, who just announced that he’s casting for a new film adaptation of West Side Story. Meanwhile, audiences can watch Hugh Jackman sing and dance as P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman, a surprise hit that’s made over $116 million at the box office so far. And this month, musical lovers will have even more options outside the multiplex. Here are three original independent musicals debuting in digital form during the next two weeks, featuring a surprise Bollywood turn by Brie Larson, a tuneful comeback from Mena Suvari, and an Audra McDonald number to bring the house down.
Before she makes her superhero debut in Captain Marvel, Oscar winner Brie Larson shows off her musical skill set in this charming, Bollywood-influenced romantic comedy. Larson plays a young scientist who travels to rural India to promote a new product her lab has developed: a high-protein rice grain being marketed by the not-at-all-suspicious-sounding corporation Mogil. While getting to know the Indian rice farmers, Larson develops a flirtatious love-hate relationship with a local student (Utkarsh Ambudkar) who shares her passion for plants. Will he help her realize that Mogil’s intentions are not as pure as her own, before it’s too late? And will they fall in love in the process? The answers are obvious and the execution is often clumsy, if not downright problematic. (Critics who complained about the film’s “white savior” heroine have a valid point.) Basmati Blues’ saving grace is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and while its depiction of Indian culture is flawed, its broad goofiness is true to the Bollywood films that inspired it. In short, it’s hard to resist a movie that’s having this much fun. Larson sings earnestly — and on key! — about love and chemistry, Ambudkar is adorable, the location is gorgeous, and Tyne Daly and Donald Sutherland get a villainous duet about corporate takeovers. It may not hit all the right notes, but when it does, Basmati Blues is a delight.
Lena Hall, a Broadway veteran who has only dabbled in film, proves that she can command the screen with a song in this small, affecting drama. Hall plays Becks, a New York City folksinger who goes home to St. Louis after a breakup with her girlfriend and bandmate (Hayley Kiyoko). There, she attempts to reconnect with her ex-nun mother (Christine Lahti), wayward brother (Michael Zegen), and high school boyfriend (Dan Fogler). She also develops an ill-advised crush on a local shop owner (Mena Suvari) who happens to be married to a guy Becks hated in high school. But what’s the harm in giving her a few innocent guitar lessons? The story is well-trod indie film territory, but it’s elevated by a funny, thoughtful script (the writers are veterans of Key and Peele and Inside Amy Schumer) and the original songs, delivered with powerful emotional force by Hall’s voice and guitar. The cast is also terrific, particularly Suvari, who gives a career-best performance and flaunts a lovely singing voice.
A fascinating idea that just doesn’t translate from stage to screen, this one’s for diehard Broadway fans only. Mostly sung through (the often lovely score is by Michael John LaChiusa, adapted from his off-Broadway show), the film follows pairs of lovers through the decades — a prostitute sleeps with a soldier, who sleeps with a nurse, who sleeps with a patient, who sleeps with a married woman, and so forth, with the musical sex scenes leaping forward and backward through time from 1912 to the present. Unfortunately, no one character sticks around long enough for the audience to get attached, and monotony quickly sets in. That said, the fllm boasts a few strong performers and one dynamite scene, between a Senate candidate (Martha Plimpton) and the famous actress (Audra McDonald) with whom she’s having an affair. “Mistress of the Senator” is one of McDonald’s signature songs, and it’s almost worth the price of admission.Basmati Blues is available via VOD and opening in select theaters on Feb. 9. Becks is available via VOD and opening in select theaters on Feb. 9. Hello Again is available via VOD on Feb. 6.