Movie Contrivance #19: When Everyone Sings a Song That You’ve Never Heard

A few days ago I watched the new movie American Hustle (or, as I think of it, Amy Adams’ Cleavage). It’s a fantastic movie–amazing acting, a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and a surprising amount of humor. I actually think it’s funnier than Anchorman 2 (which should give you some indication of the quality of laughs in that movie).

But there’s one scene in American Hustle that really didn’t resonate with me. I’ve seen this type of scene in other movies, but up until now I couldn’t put my finger on why it doesn’t work. Now I think I know.

Without giving anything away, there is a scene in American Hustle where a bunch of people sing a song together. I assume it’s playing on the radio or by an off-screen band; all you see as the viewer is about 20 extras and 2 main characters singing a song. They’re having a grand ole’ time singing together.

The problem is, they’re singing a song I’ve never heard. And I’ve heard a lot of songs in my life–at least 20 songs.

What’s the big deal, you ask? So what if they’re singing a song I haven’t heard? Well, here’s the problem: I spent the entire scene trying to figure out if I had ever heard that song, and when I realized for sure that I never had, I spent the rest of the scene trying to figure out why all of those people knew this song and I didn’t. I also considered that it was a song written for the movie. In fact, I even spent part of the time watching one of the main characters to see if he was simply pretending to know the song or if he actually knew it–I thought maybe that was part of the scene, the character trying to fit into a place where he didn’t belong (that wasn’t the case).

The esoteric nature of the song put up a wall between me and the movie, and it was especially apparent in a movie that was so enthralling up until that point.

Here’s my recommendation: If you’re going to include a scene like this in your movie, you better choose a song that the vast majority of people have heard. Basically, the song has to be Livin’ on a Prayer. Every human being is born with the lyrics of that song imprinted into their DNA. That’s why it’s played at every wedding even though it’s impossible to dance to.

Can you think of any other movie scenes like this? Also feel free to tell me that the song in American Hustle is extremely famous and that I’m unAmerican for not knowing it.