Thursday, May 17, 2012

Donna Summer, 1948-2012

TMZ has announced the death of disco singer Donna Summer, at the age of 63. Why am I mentioned the death of a disco singer (albeit, one of the most famous) on a blog about classic cinema? Well, it gives me the chance to mention the underrated movie Thank God It's Friday.

Thank God It's Friday is a movie that gets a lot of flak solely because it's set quite firmly in the disco era, an era which has dated particularly badly. In fact, I would suggest that this is a movie that's reminiscent of the 1934 film Wonder Bar (not available on DVD). Both movies are about one night in the life of a prominent night spot, and the people who patronize and work at the place, with several somewhat intersecting subplots. Thank God It's Friday opens up with several people getting ready to go out on a Friday night to the hot disco somewhere in Los Angeles. There's the would be ladies' man (a young Jeff Goldblum) who is also obsessed with his car; a couple trying to spice up their marriage on the rocks; an equally young Debra Winger; two teens who are too young to be there but fake their IDs to get in; and of course Donna Summer, playing Nicole Sims, a would-be singer who wants the DJ at the club to notice her. Many of them are also there for the big dance contest which is almost a macguffin.

Summer's character of course does get her big break: the club was also advertising an appearance by the Commodores, who were big in 1978 and fronted at the time by a young Lionel Richie before we wen't solo. Unfortunately they get lost and have car trouble, so Donna audaciously presents herself as somebody who can sing. And she goes on to sing the song "Last Dance", which turns out to be the highlight of the movie. The song won an Oscar, although not for Summer as the Best Song Oscar goes to the songwriter and composer, not the singer. I don't doubt, however, that Summer's rendition helped "Last Dance" come Oscar time.

Thank God It's Friday is probably best-remembered today for all the disco songs that it spawned. I think that this is a bit unfair. Sure, it's not the greatest movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it comes across as a movie that knows it's not a prestige movie and is just trying to have fun. Some of the subplots work better than the others. The Commodores, not being at the club, look edited in for the purpose of being able to have their name in the credits; while there's a great running gag about Goldblum's love for his car. If you like the music, you'll probably love Thank God It's Friday. If not, well, it's an interesting time capsule.

Thank God It's Friday got a DVD release several years ago, but I don't know if it's still in print.

No comments: