(1965, Robert Wise)
“The hills are alive with the sound of music”
So, my original intention was to get this review up for Christmas, because my usual Christmas review is a family movie that people may sit down to watch for the holiday. The Sound of Music is one of those films. It’s a classic musical that always gets chucked onto Christmas TV schedules because it’s long and it’s family-friendly and it’s feel-good. But I got sick, so this review got delayed. But the sentiment remains. Time to look at this family favourite in a little more detail.
The Sound of Music stars Julie Andrews as a nun named Maria who is trouble for the other nuns because she daydreams and wanders off into the fields to sing and prance around while she’s supposed to be praying and being reverent. To deal with this, she is sent to live with the Von Trapp family to act as the new governess to look after the seven children of Captain Georg Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer), who controls them using whistles and makes them wear uniforms as some bizarre way of grieving for his late wife. Maria sets out to bring some joy into the children’s lives again, mostly through singing and prancing about.
I’ve mentioned before that I don’t particularly like musicals as a general rule, but I tried to give this one some degree of respect because, well, it is a beloved classic and many of its songs have entered public consciousness for eternity. I tried. Honestly, I did. But my god, The Sound of Music was not the musical to win me over to musicals.
First of all, Maria. Jesus Christ, Maria. She is the epitome of the boring wholesome Mary Sue protagonist. She prances around singing a lot, she goes gooey-eyed over nature, she apologises profusely to the stuffy nuns (who we’re supposed to dislike but quite frankly I sided with) and is all about being sweet and lovely. And oh my god, is she annoying. There are Disney Princesses who look at this girl and think she needs to tone it down with all the twee.
What’s worse, the movie wants us to like her unquestioningly because she’s the assigned protagonist. But she has no real character traits beyond being generically nice, and it’s very easy to feel tired of her within the first 30 minutes.
Not that many other characters are better. Georg is a typical stern military dad who undergoes a massive personality change into the same generic niceness somewhat early in the movie for no real reason. The children are precocious brats who also seem to exhibit the same generic niceness underneath an implied, but rarely seen, love of pranking governesses.
And of course, everyone is singing all the time. I know, I should expect it from a musical, but this takes it to such extremes that it felt like a parody. What’s more, even though I knew many of the songs, hearing them in context and hearing them constantly made me realise that, controversially, I didn’t think any of them were very good. From “My Favourite Things” helping to cement Maria’s rather dull and somewhat air-headed personality (“when bad things happen I think of kittens and instantly feel better tee hee”) to “The Do-Re-Mi” song featuring the laziest lyric in the history of music (“La, a note to follow So”), these songs just got tedious and annoying, much like how I felt about Maria herself.
And then there’s the plot, which is devoid of any conflict because god forbid things stop being generically nice for even a second. There’s a love triangle aspect here, where Georg is engaged to a baroness but falls for Maria, that gets resolved entirely in a five minute conversation between Georg and the baroness, the latter of whom has the reaction “oh okay, carry on then” when faced with the fact her fiancée is dumping her. And that, of course, comes after Georg stops being a grumpy sourpuss when…he hears a song. Yes. He hears a single song and then thaws. Did he never hear a song before?
And then there’s the fact that this movie failed to make the Nazis threatening. Let that sink in. The people behind the Holocaust failed to come across as a threat here. I know I’m not a fan of many World War II movies either, but I’d take more movies that had effectively terrifying Nazis over this. Their attempts to escape from the Nazis look less like desperate innocents trying to escape a fascist genocidal political army and more like a fun family day out in the countryside.
Obviously, many of my criticisms here are those of a self-confessed cynic who doesn’t like the genre, but I tried to find something to like. It’s a film with a huge following and it is a good film on a technical level. But on a personal level, I had too many problems with The Sound of Music to be able to truly enjoy it.
Starring Julie Andrews & Christopher Plummer
Written by Howard Lindsay & Russell Crouse (musical) and Ernest Lehman
Produced by Robert Wise
Music by Rogers & Hammerstein (songs) and Irwin Costal (score)
Cinematography by Ted D. McCord
Edited by William H. Reynolds
Favourite Scene: I tried, but nope.
Scene That Bugged Me: That whole business with “teaching the kids to sing” when the eldest daughter was seen singing exactly two scenes before.
Watch it if: You like twee musical escapism
Avoid it if: You really can’t stand musicals