Easter Parade

Every Sunday, Film School Rejects presents a movie that was made before you were born and tells you why you should like it. This week, Old Ass Movies presents:

Easter Parade (1948)

As we all know, Easter is a time to celebrate one thing and one thing only: the incredible dancing ability of Fred Astaire. This is why children hunter Easter eggs – because they were his favorite meal, and why we eat chocolate rabbits – because they were his favorite cocoa-drenched rodent. It’ll all make sense after you see Easter Parade. Or it won’t because Easter is only used as a thin backdrop here in this film and has barely anything to do with the story.

Still, it’s a great musical.

Fred Astaire plays Don, an incredible dancer who is partnered with Nadine (Ann Miller). He is in love, but she has accepted an offer to dance solo in a show, breaking the partnership and Don’s heart. He grabs the next woman he sees (because that’s what you do with a broken heart), who turns out to be Judy Garland’s Hannah (because it’s constantly raining attractive, talented women around Fred Astaire) and he sets out to make her an even better dance partner. Will they fall in love? Of course they will.

As someone who generally dislikes musicals because he can’t get over the ridiculousness of people transitioning from speaking normally to breaking into highly-choreographed musical numbers, this movie is quite a standout. For one, there’s no pretense that the musical numbers are the stars. There are essentially four main actors in the flick, and because of that, it only allows for about 4 plot points – all revolving around who loves who and who is going to be a success. Thus, it leaves all the spotlight room for the singing and the dancing. For two,  these seem to flow organically because they involve Fred Astaire (a man who I assume used dance as his main form of transportation: “Honey, I’m going out to dance the dogs around the block. Be home by supper”) and because the characters are all in show business. It works for the same reason the movie Footlight Parade works – everything is over-the-top, but that’s how show business is supposed to be.

The real joy here is seeing the chemistry between Astaire and Garland. He’s known for being one half of Fred and Ginger, but he made a lot of movies without Rogers, and here he has the benefit of singing and dancing next to one of the best talents at the time. Not to leave them out in the cold, Ann Miller and Peter Lawford are also as fantastic as they always are.

Think of it as a light-hearted, musical version of Closer, except with more Easter bunnies and less infidelity.

If you were wondering about the Easter tie-in, it’s minimal. The beginning includes a sequence where Astaire’s character is buying Easter gifts for Nadine (and tricks a young boy into buying a drum set instead of a stuffed rabbit by singing a song about how bad ass drumming is), and the end has a sequence where Don and Hannah are walking in the Easter Parade. I know. The theme is almost overwhelming.

But that confetti-thin theme is a great pairing to the thin story. Really, all the movie is interested in is getting Astaire and Miller and Garland singing and moving their feet. That’s the truly awe-inspiring part, the sheer talent of these performers, and like many movies of the time (particularly the Marx Brothers comedies) they really only needed to create reasons for the stars to perform. Set ups, not a script.

This fact shouldn’t get in the way of enjoying the film, though. It’s sugary and sweet, and it goes down like candy. A great diversion, and just like the title existing only as an excuse to showcase Astaire and company’s talent, you can use the holiday today to discover or celebrate that talent for yourself.

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