My big dream in life is to have a scene in a film where I play a character that goes unhinged and dances to themselves into a frenzy set to a really cool song. Here are some examples of such meltdowns. Some dance and sing to themselves, some only dance, some only sing, some are just totally screwing around. All of them are delightful movie moments that forever change the way we think about the song.
Here are the best film character meltdowns set to music (and some with dancing!)
ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence
FILM: American Hustle
SONG: “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and Wings
Jennifer Lawrence is certainly having a great year and it’s barely started. People are treating her like she’s Guns N’ Roses and it’s 1987. Panties. Everywhere. I for one, welcome our new overlord Jennifer Lawrence. It’s just easier this way.
And we cannot deny her wonderful frenzied dance to “Live and Let Die” in American Hustle as her character’s young son looked on in total confusion. David O. Russell has made it very clear he cares more about characters than plot in his films, and this was definitely one of those David O. Russell character delights moments. Such preciousness.
ACTOR: Christian Bale
FILM: American Psycho
SONG: “Hip To Be Square” by Huey Lewis and the News
Don’t even ask about Dorsia; it’s a restaurant so popular and so hard to get into that Patrick Bateman, Christian Bale’s character, is more than ready to kill over it. And kill he does. He takes an axe to Paul Allen’s head, played by Jared Leto, he of chameleon acting. But before he does, he asks Paul if he likes Huey Lewis and the News, and puts on “Hip To Be Square.” His little dance moves are just the cutest thing, for an axe murderer.
ACTOR: Alfred Molina
FILM: Boogie Nights
SONG: “Sister Christian” by Night Ranger
That there’s such incredible tension in a scene set to this song is a wonderful feat. Alfred Molina, unrecognizable (at least to me), in a bathrobe and speedo, taunts John C. Reilly and Mark Wahlberg with a gun, high out of his mind, swaying and jerking to the music. At one point you really think he’s going to shoot himself in his head, as Night Ranger sings “MOTORRRRRIN’! WHAT’S!YOUR!PRICE!FOR!FLIGHT!” and you want it all to stop and yet, keep going forever.
ACTRESS: Uma Thurman
FILM: Pulp Fiction
SONG: “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” by Urge Overkill
After Pulp Fiction’s epic dance scene where Uma Thurman and John Travolta’s characters twist and shimmy in a dance contest in a 1950’s themed restaurant (and then steal the trophy), Thurman has a dance scene all her own set to this cover of Neil Young’s classic. She twirls and slithers to the song, then snorts what she thinks is cocaine but is actually heroin. Meanwhile, John Travolta is in the bathroom giving himself a pep talk about why it’s a bad idea to hit on her, resisting his urge (pun intended), telling himself, “[you’re gonna] walk out the door, get in the car, go home, jerk off, and that’s all you’re gonna do.” Of course, that’s not what happens. This meltdown’s got blood.
ACTOR: Malcolm McDowell
FILM: A Clockwork Orange
SONG: “Singing in the Rain” by Gene Kelly
Kubrick was one of the first directors to take a legendary film song and use it in a completely different way in his own film. Before A Clockwork Orange, people heard “singing the rain” and thought of Gene Kelly merrily dancing with an umbrella. After, they thought of psychological horror and “ultraviolence”. At this point in the film, McDowell’s character, Alex, has been completely abandoned for basically being a rapist asshole. He stumbled into the home of an elderly widower, and unfortunately for Alex, it was the husband of the woman Alex raped while singing “Singing in the Rain.” Fortunately for Alex, the man doesn’t recognize him…until he hears Alex singing the damned song in the bathtub. His face contorts into a horrific image of “The Scream” and he shakes uncontrollably. There’s no dancing here unless you count Alex’s hand gestures as he’s singing in the tub, but there’s definitely a meltdown, and it’s bad news for Alex.
ACTOR: Catherine O’Hara (with Jeffrey Jones, Glenn Shadix, Susan Kellermann, Adelle Lutz, and Dick Cavett)
SONG: “Banana Boat Song” (AKA “Day-O”) by Harry Belafonte
This is more of a supernatural meltdown than your regular ole meltdown. Catherine O’ Hara is throwing a dinner party when she and her guests are suddenly possessed by an unseen Beetlejuice to dance and lip synch to Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song” (AKA “Day-O”), as her daughter Lydia, played by Winona Ryder, watches with amused delight. Seeing them dance against their will is hilarious, weird, and awkward all at once.
ACTOR: Kevin Kline
FILM: In & Out
SONG: “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor
Kevin Kline’s character tries to prove to himself he’s not gay by doing the gayest thing ever: dancing to “I Will Survive.” In the film, he plays a teacher who is outed at the Oscars by a former student, which shocks him, as he never even thought of himself as gay. He gets a tape of instructions on how to be a manly man, one of the tests being, can you listen to “I Will Survive” and not dance? Kline fails miserably, as he struggles not to let the music take over but ultimately, joyfully gives up, then is hit with a wall of shame. It’s beautifully funny and sad.
What’s YOUR favorite film character musical meltdown?