I’m participating in two blogathons; the Musicals: With A Song And A Dance In My Heart Blogathon and The Biopic Blogathon. Because of this choice, I wanted to review a movie that was “the best of both worlds”. One day, while on Youtube, I came across the 1952 film, I Dream of Jeanie. After learning it was a musical biopic about the composer, Stephen Foster, I knew I had found the perfect entry! Prior to these events, I had never heard of I Dream of Jeanie. In fact, I was not familiar with Stephen Foster either. But I wanted to use my participation as an opportunity to learn more about him. I also wanted to be introduced to films that were newer to me. Did my plan work? Continue reading if you want to find out!
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: Bill Shirley is an actor I’m not familiar with. While I have seen Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, I have never seen any of his live-action films. Despite this, I did enjoy watching his acting performance! His mannerisms and line delivery reminded me of Jimmy Stewart. This is because of the tender-hearted nature Bill presented. His singing talents were amazing in this movie! One of his best performances was his solo, “Beautiful Dreamer”. With his deeper vocals and the heart-felt lyrics, there was emotion found in the song. He also sang beautifully with Eileen Christy, who portrayed Jeanie. Toward the beginning of the film, they sang a duet of “Oh! Susanna”. Bill and Eileen displayed good harmony during their performance. Having nice on-screen chemistry also worked in their favor.
While we’re on the subject of Jeanie, let’s talk about Eileen Christy’s performance. Throughout the film, she presented her character with a likable persona. Jeanie was sometimes the film’s “comic relief” as well. When a script adopts a “comic relief” character, that individual can either be goofy or be seen as dumber than the protagonist. With Jeanie, that was never the case. Even though she was silly, her intelligence never faltered. Another actress who gave a good performance is Muriel Lawrence. Portraying Jeanie’s sister, Inez, she provided an embodiment of a “diva”. Her strong will and determination to get her way made Inez one of the film’s more unlikable characters. But as an actress, Muriel had star qualities! Whenever she appeared on screen, Muriel was able to garner the camera’s attention, even when her character wasn’t the focus of a scene. It also helps that she sang beautifully in this movie.
The musical numbers’ inclusion in the story: In some musicals, a musical number can make the story feel paused. With I Dream of Jeanie, the musical numbers pushed the story forward and made sense within the context of the story. A perfect example is Muriel’s solo, “Lo, Hear the Gentle Lark”. Toward the beginning of the movie, Inez and Stephen talk about an upcoming recital, where Stephen hopes Inez will agree to an engagement. When the event arrives, the performance is used to make Inez shine, showing how she craves attention. During the recital, unpublished songs by Stephen are introduced. The secret of Stephen’s involvement with “Oh! Susanna” is revealed at this event as well. Similar to “Lo, Hear the Gentle Lark”, the inclusion of these aforementioned songs also fit within the story.
A glimpse into the legal side of the music industry: One of the conflicts Stephen experiences is his lack of royalties from “Oh! Susanna’s” success. Whenever the song is performed, Stephen’s name is never mentioned. This surprises everyone in his life, including his brother. Stephen also faces legal threats due to the song’s copyright. This is because he presented the song to multiple publishers. Since I’m not well versed in the legalities of the music world, I found this brief exploration fascinating! That part of the story allowed me to learn something new. It also showed how different copyright laws and royalty agreements were in the 1840s.
What I didn’t like about the film:
Not really biographical: The purpose of a “biopic” is to provide some education to an audience about a particular individual. In the case of I Dream of Jeanie, this movie is meant to tell the story of Stephen Foster. But I ended up not learning much about the composer. While I discovered he wrote ‘Oh! Susanna’, I was expecting to learn more about Stephen. How did he become interested in music? Did he receive any professional training? This film doesn’t answer these questions. Instead, the script focuses more on other characters and events.
The characterization of Stephen Foster: No main individual in any “biopic” is meant to be seen as “perfect”. However, one of the staples of a “biopic” is to present the admirable aspects of a given individual. With I Dream of Jeanie, Stephen Foster, more often than not, came across as a desperate push-over. I don’t blame Bill Shirley for this, as he did a good job with the acting material he received. But I will put blame on the film’s screenwriter, Alan Le May. For the majority of the movie, Stephen loves a woman named Inez. She not only doesn’t like the type of music he makes, she also hates “Oh! Susanna”. In an attempt to win her love, Stephen announces how he’s trying to achieve a “redemption” by only playing classical music. He does this instead of standing up for himself or trying to compromise with Inez. This is, sadly, just one example of Stephen’s characterization.
The character of Edwin P. Christy: Not every character is meant to be likable. Sometimes, a character’s likability is based on personal preference. In my opinion, Edwin P. Christy was annoying. Once again, blame is given to Alan Le May. Edwin was a flamboyant and over-the-top showman. But what made him unlikable for me was how he used every opportunity to put the spotlight on himself. During Inez’s recital, Edwin disrupts the event by loudly playing one of Stephen’s songs at Stephen’s nearby stable. Edwin then crashes the recital and performs some of Stephen’s unpublished music, with no granted permission from Stephen. After some time, Edwin’s antics became unpleasant. It almost felt like Edwin tried to make the story about himself as well.
My overall impression:
In my introduction, I said I wanted to use my participation in these blogathons to learn more about Stephen Foster. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. Don’t get me wrong, I did learn a few things about him and about some of the legalities of the music world’s early years. But it wasn’t enough to justify an hour and twenty-nine-minute movie. If anything, it almost seems like this film was about anything but Stephen. When characters like Edwin P. Christy try to take the spotlight for themselves, it makes the project look less biographical. As I mentioned in this review, some of the blame falls on the screenwriting. The quality of a project’s script is what makes or breaks it. If the script is weak, there’s only so much the other members of the creative team can do to salvage it. Now, as I wrap up this review, I must take a detour to Wikipedia.
Overall score: 5.6 out of 10
Have you seen any biopics? If so, which one is your favorite? Let me know in the comment section below!
Have fun at the movies!