Song of the Week #9: "So Close"- Enchanted
The rules surrounding the Academy Award for Best Original Song are rather complex and mercurial, with adjustments being made in response to any perceived problems. This is, for the most part, a good thing. Let us not forget that the rules did not originally specify that the song in question actually had to be original until one of the winners felt he’d been unjustly rewarded. But some of these fixes seem to be made in an effort to address something that’s not actually broken. And that’s more or less how I feel about the Academy’s decision to limit the number of songs from a single film which can be nominated to two, ostensibly done in response to Enchanted being thrice nominated in the category without receiving a single win. A fairly unnecessary change if you ask me, and a thoroughly avoidable one as well. Because while Enchanted may have had three nominated songs, only two of them were particularly Oscar worthy. So let us take a look at the sad tale of Enchanted’s third, neglected Oscar hopeful, the love ballad, “So Close.”
While it might not seem like it today, Kevin Lima's Enchanted was seen as something fresh and exciting when it got released in 2007. Oh sure, self-referential jokes and meta spins on their formula are pretty much Disney's bread and butter these days, to the point where it crossed the line from "cute" to "kind of annoying" at least a couple movies ago. And yes, I suppose that, technically, Shrek already did the "self-aware fairy tale" thing a few years earlier, not to mention the existence of deconstructions like Fables and... well, honestly, I kind of lost the point somewhere. I guess what I'm trying to say is the idea of Disney making meta jokes about Disney was still pretty novel in 2007, which certainly explains why Enchanted was such a phenomenon upon release. Lord knows I saw it plenty of times growing up, thanks in large part to my sister, who would play it constantly. And yet despite of all those viewings, it's been at least a decade since I've seen it, so I was eager for the chance to see if it holds up. And I'm happy to say that it does! The film largely relies on the considerable charms of Amy Adams, and it's really not hard to see why she became a major movie star after its release. But even beyond having Amy Adams at her Amy Adamsiest, the film has a lot working for it, from its clever script and game supporting cast. Hell, this very well may be the only movie musical in history where the "character reacts in bewilderment to people singing and dancing" joke actually lands. And tying it all together, as always, are the songs.
With the power duo of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz working on the soundtrack, it's hardly any wonder that the songs in Enchanted got so much love from the Academy. Alan Menken (along with the late, great Howard Ashman) was one of the major architects of the Disney Renaissance, and Stephen Schwartz... well, he was there too! Hell, the duo won an Oscar for their work together on Pocahontas, which was kind of bullshit because we all know that "You've Got a Friend in Me" is ten times the song "Colors of the Wind" could ever hope to be. Besides, the shit job they did on "Savages" should have been enough to disqualify that film from any consideration. They did much better work together a year later on the much better The Hunchback of Notre Dame, so of course the songs in THAT film didn't get nominated for anything and... shit, I've kind of lost my train of thought again. Once you get me talking about Disney, there's no off button.
Well, my point is, Enchanted has some damn good tunes in it. Sure, one gets the impression that Stephen Schwartz is a little more impressed with the cleverness of his lyrics than he really ought to be, but still. "Happy Working Song" is damn good fun, and I defy you to listen to "How Does She Know" without feeling the urge to get up and dance. They may not be the best Disney songs in the world, but that's a pretty high bar when you think about it. They're worthy Oscar contenders, and I'm looking forward to talking about them in more detail when it's their turn to be Song of the Week. But we're not talking about those songs. We've barely talked about the song we're ostensibly talking about. So let's get into that, shall we?
For those not in the know- and how can you not be? You haven't seen Enchanted? Shame on you!- "So Close" is the film's climactic love song, played during Giselle (Amy Adams) and Robert's (Patrick Dempsey) dance during the ball. Essentially, it's the film's take on "Beauty and the Beast", right down to having it be sung by an ancillary character outside of the main couple. In this case, very ancillary; the song is performed by Jon McLaughlin, presumably playing himself. Kind of a missed opportunity if you ask me. I mean come on, Idina Menzel was in the movie and didn't get to sing once! The Academy loves having Idina Menzel perform! How else can you explain them nominating "Into the Unknown" for Best Original Song? That wasn't one of the five best songs of the year! That wasn't even one of the five best songs from Frozen II!
Shit, I got sidetracked again. I know I say this a lot, but this is another one of those times when everything surrounding the song is considerably more interesting than the song we're covering. Well like I said, this film wants to be the Enchanted version of "Beauty and the Beast." (In that case, wouldn't it have to be called "Enchanted?" This was three years before the release of Taylor Swift's "Enchanted", but you know, that would have been a good fit for this scene as well and... god damn it! Stay on target!) Unfortunately, the film misses the mark somewhat. Sure, it manages to remind me of "Beauty and the Beast", but not the Angela Lansbury version; no, "So Close" evokes the Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson version. And in case it's not obvious, in my world, that's a bad thing. A very bad thing.
If you will allow me a brief diversion- I know, I've been doing such a good job of keeping on track so far- I'd like to talk about an even greater scourge to the world of movie music than that of the End Credits Song- The End Credits Pop Cover. You know what I'm talking about. You've reached the end of a movie musical, hoping to perhaps hum along to an orchestral medley of the film's greatest hits and then BAM! You're hit in the face with a rendition of one of the film's best songs, only this time performed by some contemporary pop singer draining all the life out of it. Goodbye character voices, goodbye pristine instrumentation, goodbye everything that made the song work! We can't have any personality in this song if we want to get it played on the radio! But the people behind Enchanted decided that efficiency was the name of the game, and cut out the middle man by putting the lifeless dull version of the song in the movie itself.
Ok, maybe that's a little harsh. Just a little, though. As a song on its own terms, "So Close" is perfectly serviceable. The lyrics are fairly generic, touching on love and happy endings and just about every fairy tale trope you can think of. They certainly lock the touch of self-aware cleverness you often find with Stephen Schwartz lyrics, but Schwartz forgot to replace that with anything else interesting. And really, if you don't get the feeling that at least once in the writing process Schwartz had to take a break so he could bask in the glory of his own genius, have you really listened to a Stephen Scwhartz song? You have not. Still, the lyrics tie into the emotion of the scene well enough, and I suppose that's what matters. It is a really sweet scene to be fair, with the chemistry between the actors doing a lot to elevate the song.
The music isn't anything spectacular either, but at least it's pleasant to listen to. It's sort of basically pleasant in the way a lot of Alan Menken's 21st century output is; not bad, just nothing special. It's probably unfair to expect him to churn out classics every time, but the man set a high bar for himself in the 80s and 90s. (Again, Pocahontas excluded.) But I suppose when you compare it to a lot of of music that was popular in the mid-aughts, it stacks up pretty well. And the arrangement is at least far more interesting than last week's song, so maybe I should count my bless. Besides, I'm a sucker for any pop song with a string section. And while Jon McLaughlin doesn't, you know, play a character in the movie, he's got a good voice. You know, as far as tenors go.
In short, it sounds exactly like the sort of song which you'd hear at a dance. Maybe not a fancy medieval-themed ball or anything, but maybe at homecoming when the night is winding down and the DJ puts on a slow jam to make everyone stop dry humping each other for five god damn minutes. So I suppose, in that aspect, the song works. But the Academy doesn't have an award for "Song Most Suited for a High School Dance". It has "Best Original Song." And by that standard, "So Close" just doesn't cut the mustard.
It certainly doesn't work as the last real song in a musical. This is, admittedly, something Disney has often struggled with; for reasons that I'm sure makes sense to someone, most of their musical films just stop being musicals in the last act, and Enchanted is no exception. I suppose this is under the belief that musical numbers will make the film seem less dramatic, which is pretty silly. It's when things are at their most dramatic that characters should be singing more. As a result, Disney musicals often have their last number (give or take a reprise at the finale) be one of the weaker ones; think "Fixer Upper" from Frozen. No one wants their soundtrack singalong to go out with a wet fart. And while "So Close" might not be quite at wet fart levels (it's not ambitious enough for that), it's certainly a dud. But it could be worse, I guess. The Academy could have nominated the song Carrie Underwood sings over the final montage, which would have been a downright disgrace.
As for the rule changes it apparently necessitated, I have to say the Academy wildly overreacted. I can't find an official reason for why they decided to limit films to only two nominated songs, but there are two prevailing theories. One is to prevent any single film from overwhelmingly dominating the category, which I think is bullshit. If a film has three songs which deserve to be nominated, they should be nominated. Beauty and the Beast had three nominees, and frankly deserved more. "Gaston" didn't even make the cut for God's sake! (The Lion King and Dreamgirls also scoring three nominees apiece is less deserved, but those are topics for another day.) The other reason I've seen floated about was that this was to help the films from splitting the vote amongst its songs, which I also think is silly. Why not limit how many actors from a single film can be nominated in the same category while you're at it? Besides, Enchanted didn't lose Best Song because voters couldn't pick one to rally behind. It lost Best Song because it was up against "Falling Slowly", which is a straight up masterpiece and one of the greatest pieces of music ever written for a film. (Admittedly, that win is also source to its own hotbed of controversy in terms of eligibility, but again- topic for another day.)
As for "So Close"... well, I suppose it has to have something of a legacy. This film was incredibly popular for people in my generation, and there must be a lot of people who swooned during Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey's big dance number. The songs in movies gain their power not just for their own merits, but from the way they made us feel when we first heard them, and the memories we associate with them. So despite it all, I can't really bring myself to be too harsh on "So Close." Any song that makes me think of Amy Adams must be doing something right.
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