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The Sneak Song-and-Dance: Musical Scenes in Non-Musicals

The Sneak Song-and-Dance: Musical Scenes in Non-Musicals (photo)

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As anyone who sat through this year’s Oscars knows, according to Hugh Jackman, Beyoncé, and, well, that chick from “Mamma Mia!”, musicals are back. It’s a somewhat desperate refrain we’ve been hearing for almost a decade now, one that began with the success of “Moulin Rouge” in 2000. Since then, we’ve had “Chicago,” “Dancer in the Dark,” the “High School Musical” trilogy (going on tetralogy? — is anyone keeping count?), and “Nine,” the “8 1/2”-inspired musical due out this year starring Penélope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Daniel Day-Lewis and Marion Cotillard and directed by “Chicago”‘s Rob Marshall. Still, Wolverine’s claim is a bit disingenuous — look closely and you’ll find that the urge in actors to break into song never really went away. Whether employed to inject life, fantasy, madness, movie-ness, or silliness, musical numbers have been showing up in non-musical films consistently over the years. Below are a few memorable examples, for those in need of a singing break.

“The 40-Year-Old Virgin”

If it’s true that “The 40 Year Old Virgin” could have easily shaved off 20 minutes from its 116-minute running time (it’s true), it is also true that not one second of those cuts should come from the seemingly superfluous finale, a dance sequence set to The Fifth Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In.” Something of a release, if you will, following almost two hours of build-up and then the inevitably anticlimactic act itself, Steve Carell and co. don silky scarves and radiant smiles and cavort like hairy nymphs across a verdant hillside, loosely inspired by the song’s first cinematic appearance in “Hair.” With full-blown musicals — and the pleasure they were designed to express and give — mostly lying dormant in cinema’s generic basement, musical numbers are often inserted in modern films for a hit of that pure visual and aural entertainment gilded by a post-modern veneer of irony; in this way we can acknowledge the effect these types of numbers are designed to have while being reassured that we are not the kind of people who would take unabashed, ingenuous delight in something as intellectually unchallenging and low-down hokey as a song-and-dance number. Judd Apatow’s comedy, however, uses the musical’s aesthetic as shorthand for innocence and exhilaration to sweet, hilarious, post-ironic effect; we are encouraged to engage with it fully, purely and without shame. (HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords” tends to use musical sequences in the same way.) The entire cast channels their inner swirly hippies for the song with Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen making particularly fine, ebullient, endorphin-charged asses of themselves.

“Slumdog Millionaire”

The close to Danny Boyle’s fantastical film that borrowed from any number of Holly- and Bollywood traditions is a dance sequence that runs over the credits. It takes place in a train station, where the reunited hero and heroine lead a crowd of dancers that includes at least one person the film killed off only moments before. The choreography is pure Bollywood, anyone-can-do-it kitsch, and also picks up on some of the moves busted by the young actors earlier in the film, who are themselves imitating their Bollywood heroes. The song it is set to A.R. Rahman’s “Jai Ho” (which means “hail” or “hallelujah”) — which, as it happens, won the Oscar for best song. It isn’t the first time the two film industry cultures clashed — Indian director Mira Nair managed to insert a similarly exuberant Bollywood sequence into her 2004 adaptation of Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair,” in which Becky Sharpe (Reese Witherspoon) twitches and flirts for the appreciative Marquess of Steyne (Gabriel Byrne), a scene that might as well have been a corseted extension of the looser and more fun dance scene found in her previous film, “Monsoon Wedding.”

“A Life Less Ordinary”

Danny Boyle strikes again, this time in his 1997 film starring Ewan McGregor as a working-class barkeep named Robert and Cameron Diaz as a rich heiress named Celine; an unlikely couple, they’re united by two angels played by Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo. Widely considered a disappointing follow-up to Boyle’s 1996 cultural steamroller “Trainspotting,” the highlight of the mostly dreary film is a karaoke number that segues into a full-blown musical sequence. Robert, a dreamer whose frequent ruminations we are privy to, gets up in a bar to do a karaoke version of Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” for Celine, who soon joins in. The duo test out a few remedial steps before moving into the crowd, and as the song builds to the bridge where Boyle cuts to Robert, now slicked back and sleek in a black suit, and Celine, resplendent in a short, shiny blue frock. The two jump on the bar and kick out the rest of the jam: McGregor can actually hit his notes, something Baz Luhrmann surely took note of before casting him in “Moulin Rouge”; Diaz cannot — at all — but she moves like a dream, a gift that probably inspired her anomalous dance sequences in each of the “Charlie’s Angels” films.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…