Dixie and Eddie do it For the Boys
Starring Bette Midler and James Caan "For the Boys" is a hugely nostalgic movie which when originally released was panned by critics for it's over sentimentality and the very artificial aging of the cast. Too be honest, I agree with the comment about the ageing, the story of "For the Boys" spans over 50 years, and the scenes where Dixie Leonard and Eddie Sparks are in their old age are not the most realistic, in fact at times they look more like creatures out of a Jim Henson movie. But in my eyes the claim of over sentimentality is over the top, "For the Boys" is a wonderful nostalgic trip over 50 years and in doing so has cause to be sentimental; it is actually part of the appeal of the movie.
Dixie Leonard (Bette Midler - Beaches) is a singer in an unknown all women's trio, when she gets the opportunity to travel overseas and appear in a USO Christmas special for the American troops during World War II. When she lands in England she is quickly rushed onto the stage to appear with legendary song and dance man, Eddie Sparks (James Caan - El Dorado). She completely steals the show with her beautiful singing and risqué responses to Eddie's comments. Their on stage chemistry makes them an immediate hit, but off stage they couldn't stand each other. So starts a love hate partnership which see Sparks and Leonard reach the top of their profession with radio performances, their own TV show and more entertaining of the troops during the wars through to Vietnam, at times breaking up the act due to their mutual hatred of each other.
"For the Boys" draws a lot of similarities between itself and the USO shows of Bob Hope, but focuses more on the character of Dixie Leonard than Eddie Sparks. It also has some very poignant moments, which surprisingly unite Leonard and Sparks at moments of personal tragedy, and on top of that there is the wonderful singing of Bette Midler. In the scene where she sings "In My Life" to a bunch of jaded troops in Vietnam it is as if the whole world has stopped to hear her sing, it is a magical performance and a very beautiful scene.
In the lead role of Dixie Leonard is Bette Midler who is the driving force of the movie. Midler is absolutely perfect as a 1940's singer, with her rendition of "Stuff Like That There" setting the mark. It's not only the singing that she does well in the movie; the comic routines with Eddie remind you of the actress Lucille Ball, in "I Love Lucy" as I am sure this was the intention. Too be honest, it is as if Midler was born about 20 years too late and missed out on an era when she would have been an even bigger star than she is now.
The character of Eddie Sparks is played by James Caan, and too be very honest he underplays the part so that it doesn't clash with Midler's brilliant performance. The scenes between James Caan and Bette Midler are brilliant with loads of slap stick and quick wit repartee; my only negative comment is that you never see the character of Sparks perform on his own, so the premise that he is a legendary song and dance man is never really proven.
As well as Midler & Caan there are great supporting performances all round but special mention to go to George Segal (A Touch of Class) as Art Silver, Leonard's uncle as well as Eddie's script writer, who has to deal with the troublesome two.
"For the Boys" is directed by Mark Rydell who directed "On Golden Pond" and "The Cowboys". Rydell has done a brilliant job of capitalizing on the nostalgia in this movie. Through out the movie we get to see and remember what it was like in the 40s, 50s, 60s followed by a huge leap to the 80s. We get to enjoy the music of the 40s with the big band sound, followed by the classic comedy sitcoms of the 50's such as "I Love Lucy" then the more contemporary songs of the 60s, such as the Beatles "In My Life". It is no surprise that with all of this that the movie is very sentimental but it also deals with the cruel reality of war that destroys peoples lives. Rydell has also capitalized on the singing talents of Midler, which make this movie very special. Personally I had never appreciated how talented Midler was until I saw her in this movie.
With 5 decades to cover, Rydell has used the different backdrops to each era to help tell the story with the darkness of WW II, the Glitz of the Hollywood showbiz years and the political ness of Vietnam. Not surprisingly the soundtrack to "For the Boys" is very important and is laden with musical gems such as "I Remember You", "P.S. I Love You" and "In My Life", I will guarantee that there is at least one song in the movie which will get you tapping your feet and one song which will make you cry, no matter what your musical taste may be. Not surprisingly, Bette Midler was nominated for an Oscar for her role, only to be beat by Jodie Foster in "The Silence of The Lambs".
What this all boils down to is that "For the Boys" is a movie which has been over looked by 90% of the population, which is a shame. The greatest part of the movie is that it is hugely entertaining from start to finish. For anyone who loves the big band sound, or remembers watching "I Love Lucy" whether it was the first time round or through reruns, will enjoy the nostalgia of this movie. Yes it is very sentimental, but then it is meant to be and that is part of the reason why it is so likeable. Bette Midler puts in a brilliant performance as an actress as well as a singer and the on screen chemistry between Midler and Caan is brilliant. In general "For the Boys" is a great movie, which is inoffensive and is purely an enjoyable 2 hours of nostalgia.