Watch 52 musicals, one every week, in 2015.
All I knew about Evita before today: Argentina isn’t supposed to cry, and Madonna’s in it. Well, now I know that she plays Eva Perón, the Argentine champion of labor rights that looks surprisingly Italian and French-Canadian. Can this songstress charm her way to the top of her country’s government and bridge the gap between the politicians and the people? Is “charm” code for “sex”? What is “gap” code for? And is this movie as formulaic and bloated as every other biopic you’ve seen without songs?
The structure of Evita is pretty straightforward, as we see Eva long for more than her lower class beginnings and move from gig to gig and bed to bed until she becomes a public figure adored by the masses that can use her fame for good and stumble along the way. That stuff is all fine and dandy. Great idea for a musical. A for effort.
Ups! Downs! High! Lows! Rises! Falls! Drama!
However, the moments in Eva’s life are painted in such broad strokes that I couldn’t really, you know, feel stuff authentically. A meeting over a shift of political power regarding Eva’s actions and changing reputation might be summed up in a chorus of, “Eva did a bad thiiiiing!” I felt like I needed many more specific details so I could reach my own conclusions about the events in Eva’s life and react accordingly. I wanted some thinks with the feels.
“No, fuck you, Eva did a good thiiiiing!”
I’m sure those of you with way better attention spans than mine will tell me that all the plot info is there in the lyrics, but what a technicality to get hung up on. Just because they managed to squeeze in lines about the finer points of Eva’s charities or campaign strategies doesn’t mean their impact had enough room to resonate. There’s lots of singing and montages but very little conventional dialogue or, you know, dramatic scenes between characters? Wow, yeah, it feels like there aren’t any actual scenes. In a movie.
I know it has them! I watched it! But why didn’t they connect with me?
Am I being cranky? Maybe. I think I’ve figured out what’s not working for me, but I’ll save it for the end, because there are many more things a movie musical can fuck up besides the story.
Madonna looks like she’s having fun. She gets to sing and smile and do a little crying. She never really stopped feeling like Madonna, though, which I can’t tell if that’s an acting problem or a casting problem. Probably both. Still, she’s Madonna, so there’s that.
“Citizens! Now is the time to strike… a pose!”
Antonio Banderas’s character, who the credits inform me is named Ché, is an abstract representation of the thoughts of the Argentine people, and he Forrest Gumps his way through Eva Perón’s entire life conveniently always landing a job wherever she is. The phrase “cranked to 11″ does not do his performance justice, and I would like very much for the rest of this article to be nothing but his ridiculous faces and his penchant for pointing at everyone.
An even stranger casting choice than Madonna may be Jonathan Pryce as Juan Perón, because if someone asked, “Who’d make a good Argentine president?” my instant reaction would be, “Definitely not the bad guy from Tomorrow Never Dies.” And yet, he puts his all into the role, with a commanding but charismatic presence, a softer side for Eva, and also a decent set of pipes.
“I’ll get you, Mr. Booooond!”
Honestly, there aren’t many more characters than that, but Eva’s first love Agustín Magaldi, a nightclub performer played by Jimmy Nail, has a prominent role in the beginning and a rather lovely voice.
Suitable for bedside lullabies.
THE SONGS AND DANCES:
This is my second musical that is all singing all the time, and I already used my free pass to avoid analyzing each song individually on Tommy, but holy balls, we just plain gotta skip some of these fuckers. Set bias to maximum and let’s do the hits.
First up is our beloved Ché singing “Oh, What a Circus” as he reflects on the high turnout at Eva’s lavish funeral even though she’s definitely made her share of mistakes. What seems like a somber lead-in to a flashback kicks into BROWWWRRR cheesy electric guitars and explosions and unrest and chaos! Because this exploration of the struggling masses is going to be fun!
“Lemme finish this drink and then I’ll ROCK YOUR FACE.”
We are rocked back in time to Eva’s beginnings, and see, among other things, her move to the big city as she sings “Buenos Aires.” While it may feel like an uppity sightseeing tune à la “New York, New York,” Eva’s focus is on how the city is missing some real star power that she intends to bring. It would seem egotistical if we didn’t already know that she is not wrong.
CUT TO: A dozen other women singing this same song who die pesoless in an alley.
Hey, how did Eva get so huge when she started out with nothing? Oh, I dunno, maybe some fuuuuuuckin’. “Goodnight and Thank You” is an awesome ode to porking your way to success featuring all the men Eva used on her way up the fame ladder. It’s packed with winky innuendos that Ché interrupts to explain that they mean sex, and if you don’t think that’s awesome, get… loved vigorously.
Ché, you beautiful bastard.
After Eva gets cozy with Colonel Perón, all her naysayers (including his own armies) join in a chorus of “Perón’s Latest Flame,” in which they call Eva a bitch and a slut and a bad actress with a nice vagina. Wow. Catty, fellas.
“This is how we feel better about ourselves!”
Oh, yeah, and there’s “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.” It’s a song.
Much catchier and interesting than that last song I just farted over is “Rainbow High,” in which Eva goes full material girl and demands that she must wear the most expensive clothes in the world in order to connect with the lower class. I mostly liked this segment for the editing, but it’s still a great comment on how she’s getting greedy under the guise of giving her fans hope. It’s almost like she’s a complex person with both good and bad qualities or something?
Eva embarks on her Rainbow Tour, and hubby Juan stays behind watching newsreel footage to determine how it’s going. “Rainbow Tour” features him and his colleagues blatantly lying to themselves about how “it’s been an incredible success.” It is stupidly catchy and has been in my head ever since. Let’s hear it for the Rainbow Tour!
It’s been an incredibly successful earworm.
The catchiness keeps coming in the clunkily titled “And the Money Kept Rolling In (And Out).” Ché tells us all about Eva’s various questionable charities and how everybody loves them… but all that really matters is his constant repetition of “[something something] Eva PerÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓÓNNNNNNNNN!”
Here’s another Ché face for ya.
Winning points for conceptual brilliance but not actually that great of a song or dance is “Waltz for Eva and Ché,” a fantasy sequence in which Eva finally meets the voice of the Argentine people and partakes in some fancy footwork with him. This is one of the talkiest talk-singing songs in the movie (and it has a lot of them), where it feels like they took normal dialogue and put notes behind it. Anyway, it’s, uh, well-filmed?
Busby Berkeley, it ain’t.
Oh, and I don’t give a fuck about this next song and it’s maybe a spoiler but I just need to talk about the shitty title, okay? You see, Eva gets cancer. Classic, easy, dramatic biopic moment, one that needs to be handled with nuance and respect. Unfortunately, Juan sings a You’ve Got Cancer song, and though it’s slow and sad, it has the most tear-jerkingly, Oscar-baitingly stupid title: “Your Little Body’s Slowly Breaking Down.”
Ugh, that’s dumb. That is so dumb. Fuck you.
Huh, what’s this last song in my notes? “You Must Love Me”? Wow, I don’t remember it at all. Must be some throwaway filler number—ACADEMY AWARD FOR BEST SONG???
Throw her on the pile with “Up Where We Belong” and “Take My Breath Away.”
To tell the truth, I skipped some songs I wanted to talk about, but I also want to go to bed at a decent hour.
I THINK THIS LINE’S MOSTLY FILLER:
Evita actually has the top score for lyrics that made me cringe so hard I had to write them down, but aside from sappy bullshit, weird fairy tale references, blunt vagina jokes, and a line about the Pope flipping the bird, this bafflingly broken play on words from “Rainbow High” is unforgivable…
“I’m their product, it’s vital you sell me,
So Machiavell me…”
Okay, here’s my big revelation: I think Evita would make a great biopic… without any songs. They’ve made a big campy musical with lots of cheese and melodrama that’s legitimately fun to see and hear, but I want the details. I want Eva to feel like a fully formed human being that I can connect with, rather than a character to drape ideals and guitar licks on. Maybe I’m a hard-ass about biopics, but I wanted to be educated today, and all I really learned is that Antonio Banderas is more fantastic than I could possibly imagine.
I love you, Ché.
Cannibal! The Musical (1993)