Have you heard of the Golden Raspberry Awards? It’s a parody show that awards the worst cinematic flops. Normally it’s called the Razzies. What caused this to happen? Xanadu and Can’t Stop the Music were such monumentally bad movies that the Golden Raspberry Awards were created. It even won the first Razzie for worst director; an honor much deserved.
I’ve never seen Can’t Stop the Music, but I did watch Xanadu. It was just one of the weirdest cinema experiences of my life. How do I even start to describe this mess? I barely understood what I was watching! The only reason I knew anything about what was happening was because other people explained things as the movie played. Still, I’ll do my best to describe this psychedelic cinema flop. It’s a musical set in the ‘80s with vague Greek Mythology references so minuscule you need a microscope to see them, real estate, and flashy musical numbers. Just your typical musical, nothing to see here.
Xanadu plays less like a movie with a cohesive story and more like a series of music videos for an album. The whole movie is disjointed and doesn’t explain why things happen. The musical numbers are beautifully choreographed. But they occur in a vacuum. There’s hardly any plot to connect these song and dance routines to a bigger picture. Watching it is a mental puzzle of finding out why things are happening. Unfortunately, the story and characters are so lacking as the music itself is good. The soundtrack is truly one of the best, and the musical numbers are flashy. I didn’t have any reason to get invested in bland characters and inscrutable overarching story.
Yet I did get invested. I paid active attention to this train wreck for the entire film. Why? Because it’s weird. Xanadu is a fever dream of neon lights, dancing, bad acting, and ‘80s aesthetics. I’ve never been high before, but I can imagine that the sensation would be very much like the first time I saw this film. It’s the reason why despite my three-star rating, I still appreciate this movie as a completely unique “What the absolute HECK??!?” experience. Xanadu isn’t a good movie, but wow is it something special.
You would like this movie if
- You’re a theatre nerd.
- Really love the soundtrack.
- Love watching bad movies.
- Take joy in watching people’s first-time reactions to Xanadu. Because those are a thousand times better than the movie.
None of what I’m about to type is fake. This is really what happens in Xanadu. The movie starts with paintings of girls on a billboard coming to life. They dance around for a bit and then turn into balls of colored light whooshing around the world. The yellow magical girl leaves her friends to go roller-skating in a park and meets the protagonist Bland Boy. He instantly becomes enamored with her because she kissed him then skated away. We find out that Bland Boy tried to be a freelance artist and failed. He is working in an art studio for a boss he doesn’t like. While chasing after Magical Girl he meets Gene Kelly. Gene Kelly is a rich real-estate person of some sort. Bland Boy and Gene Kelly bond over a shared love of music. When they encounter Magical Girl again in an abandoned auditorium, she tells them they should buy it and start a nightclub. Since it makes perfect sense to pick a stranger as a business partner, Gene Kelly and Bland Boy decide to go for it. While they work on creating a nightclub, Bland Boy continues to pursue a relationship with Magical Girl.
The Tradition of Xanadu
In my husband’s family, it is a
hazing tradition to show Xanadu to anyone who hasn’t seen this musical. This is because his mom loved the music when she was a teenager. She even bought the vinyl record. Sadly when it made the rounds in movie theaters, her local movie theater was temporarily closed. Years after the movie was released she was gifted a DVD of Xanadu. She did not expect the movie to be that strange. Her love of the soundtrack and the sheer power of nostalgia overcame all else about Xanadu. So much so that she makes sure her kids and friends all see the musical at least once.
It also includes the significant others of her kids. Watching Xanadu was a family affair when I was introduced to it. Only two people liked this movie out of the whole group. All of the others just wanted to see my reactions. And boy did I react. Apparently, my constant confusion was hilarious.
Now my husband and I continue the tradition. He enjoys Xanadu. Me… not so much. It’s a trainwreck. I’ve already seen it. I’ve done my time. No one needs to see the musical more than once. What I do like, is showing it to other people. Because then it’s my turn to watch their reactions and confusion. If I had to watch this, it’s only fair my friends are subjected to the same experience.
What the Heck!? WHY!?? Reactions
Normally in my reviews, I have the Worst Parts and Best Parts sections. This didn’t seem fitting for Xanadu. Instead please enjoy my most shocked and befuddled thoughts I had while watching Xanadu.
- The opening number. It sets the tone of “Did someone spike my drink?” right off the bat. Well done.
- Did Magical Girl sexually assault Bland Boy? I know I wouldn’t be happy if some weird girl ran into me, kissed me, and skated away. Pretty sure she did. Great start to a romance.
- This coworker of Bland Boy tells him that he is the fastest painter in the world. Camera cuts away. Camera cuts back and BOOM! This barely started sketch is suddenly a completed painting! If the coworker is that fast, how fast is Bland Boy? Scary
- I haven’t seen transitions between scenes like that since the first time I used PowerPoint in middle school. Cinematic Gold.
- Why is everyone roller-skating?
- We could solve global warming for the next century with the heat of this romance.
- Wow…. those outfits…. Only in the ‘80s can you find this wild of colors and styles all smooshed together.
- The letters on the building Bland Boy and Gene Kelly buy disappear and reappear throughout the movie?? Why is that happening?
- An animated song suddenly happens for no reason! The entire film is live-action, then out of nowhere, it becomes a beautifully animated Don Bluth film for one song. I’m not kidding, it was animated by Don Bluth. Who thought that was a good idea? Why is this the best part of the movie?
- Since when do Greek gods do disco?
- They’re still roller-skating!! Why??!
- I am in absolute awe that Xanadu managed to get such big-name actors to sign on to this hot mess. Seriously, how? This film did Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly dirty. I’m pretty sure the producers hooked them with the soundtrack while pretending they had a plot to go along with it.
*Image does not belong to me. It belongs to Xanadu.