Play It Again – Xanadu (Flop Edition #1)

Xanadu

By Jess Lomas
August 27, 2013

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!). This month, we’re looking exclusively at epic movie flops.

Do you like roller skating and unthreatening pop music? How about awkwardly delivered dialogue? It sounds like Xanadu is just the movie for you then, with this famous flop delivering a lead performance even Tommy Wiseau would roll his eyes at.

Sonny Malone (Michael Beck) is a painter forced to return to a job he hates after failing as a freelance artist. He paints enlarged album covers that hang outside record stores until he encounters a mysterious woman and his whole world changes. His days become consumed with tracking down the ethereal and elusive Kira (Olivia Newton-John), who turns out to be the Greek muse of dancing, sent down from the heavens to inspire Sonny to open a roller disco (obviously). Problems arise when Kira falls in love with Sonny, and, despite the successful opening of roller disco Xanadu, it’s unclear whether Sonny and Kira’s love can overcome her lack of mortality.

Xanadu

Helping Sonny achieve his roller-disco-dreams-he-never-knew-he-had is Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly), a former big-band leader who lost his inspiration when his own muse (who had a striking resemblance to Kira) disappeared. Naturally, it is Kira who brings Sonny and Danny together before roller skating back into the realms of the Gods. While some lament Kelly’s involvement (this was his final on-screen performance), he is in fine form, bringing energy and enthusiasm to a questionable role.

This odd musical helped inspire the annual Golden Raspberry “Razzie” Awards for worst films, which should give a clear indication of how it was received both at the time and how it is still perceived today, earning one win from six nominations. Director Robert Greenwald has since moved on from musicals to documentaries, but Xanadu stands as a testament to a more experimental time in his career.

On paper and on screen Xanadu is unbridled silliness. Yet, with a rocking soundtrack courtesy of Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra, it’s hard not to get swept up by tunes such as All Over the World, set to a dressing room montage, and, of course, the titular Xanadu. Delightfully tacky and absurdist, this picture is a textbook case of guilty pleasure.

2.5/5

Xanadu is available on Quickflix.

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