Sometimes music - and I'm talking rock music here - is so well integrated into a movie that you can't imagine a scene without it. Think Martin Scorsese at his best. Sometimes a movie is built around a soundtrack (Purple Rain), but you don't mind because the soundtrack is soooo good. When you're lucky, a movie can open a whole new world of music for you (Pretty in Pink), or perhaps better yet, take a song you know (and maybe love, maybe don't) and recontextualize it so completely that you can't imagine it any other way (Hall & Oates "You Make My Dreams" in 500 Days of Summer, for example).*
I discovered Wreckless Eric's 1977 "Whole Wide World" in Stranger Than Fiction. Will Ferrell's character Harold Crick sings the song to Maggie Gyllenhaal's Ana Pascal, and then the original recording kicks in. I've been listening to the song obsessively lately, and while the infectious chorus with its simple yet satisfying tambourine line is what originally grabbed me in the film, the sweet, naive, optimistic verses are what keep me coming back.
After his mother's assured him that there is indeed someone waiting for him somewhere, the Brit Eric has a moment of clarity:
Why am I hanging around in the rain out here
Trying to pick up a girl
Why are my eyes filling up with these lonely tears
When there're girls all over the world
It's not long before the song is positively bursting with his hope:
I should be lying on that sun-soaked beach with her
Caressing her warm brown skin
And then in a year or maybe not quite
We'll be sharing the same next of kin
The original recording is a who's who of British punk: Ian Drury on drums and Nick Lowe on guitar and bass. The wreckless guy, that's Eric Goulden, who's now married to Amy Rigby, if that means anything to you.
Here's a rare clip of Wreckless Eric from back in the day. Sound quality's not that great, but the song still shines. It's the perfect soundtrack when you need a little encouragement.
*I'm of course completely ignoring here all the cynical soundtracks designed to do nothing but improve a movie's bottom line (Twilight** anyone?), or all those horrific theme songs that make you embarrassed for the musicians (almost all James Bond themes). I'll save that for another day when I'm feeling less chipper.
**OK, there's actually a lot of good music on the various Twilight Saga soundtracks, some of it even named by the author as her writing inspiration. But it was definitely a money-making move on the part of the movie people.