Spotlight: Movie Musical Casting Couch Catastrophes

Have you ever watched a movie and thought to yourself, “Why on Earth did they pick that actor for this part?” Well, if you have, I want you to picture it: a film studio meeting room, circa whenever. A bunch of studio executives are tossing ideas around a table. They are all heavily drunk…okay, maybe not. But the fact remains that the musical film performances I’m about to share were birthed from poor decisions. Granted, the ones at the top of this list are far worse than those down below. Nevertheless, all the casting directors here had us scratching our heads. Or my head, at the very least. Let’s begin.

7. Shirley Jones in Carousel

Okay, this one isn’t all that bad. As I said, the ones at this end of my countdown aren’t as egregious as those to come. But Jones’s performance as the leading lady of Carousel just pales in comparison- in two ways. It pales in comparison to other musical performances she’s given, like Marian in The Music Man. But it also doesn’t measure up to that of other actresses who have played Julie Jordan: Kelli O’Hara, Laura Osnes, and Alexandra Silber, just to name a few. Jones’s soprano still makes the Rodgers and Hammerstein score sound great, but the level of acting required to pack an emotional punch with Julie just was not there.

6. Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia!

Sure, 007 looks right for the role of Donna Sheridan’s true love. His acting wasn’t even too ghastly. However, all that went south very quickly when “Sam Carmichael” opened his mouth while music played. He’s not a singer in any universe, especially not one where people sing ABBA in front of panoramic views of Greece. Earth to Brosnan- there’s a reason Meryl built a wall between you guys for this number.

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5. Liz Taylor in A Little Night Music

Well, this whole debacle isn’t entirely Taylor’s fault. After all, as I established in a previous blog post, the film adaptation of Sondheim’s masterwork is a disaster in general. But if we’re to focus solely on Liz Taylor as the fading diva Desiree- you’d think that such a casting choice would be perfect. Sadly, critics tore apart her “fluctuating weight” (according to Wikipedia) between scenes, and her rendition of “Send in the Clowns” ended up being flat and soulless. The original stage score of A Little Night Music had already been butchered in this movie, and if its most famous song can’t even hold water, well…there’s the last nail in the coffin.

4. Minnie Driver in The Phantom of the Opera

All right- from this point forward, the miscasting is going to get so terrible that it’ll be hard to distinguish what’s more awful. I’m doing my best. Anybody can tell you that the meatiest, most fun role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom is that of the Prima Donna herself, Carlotta. Unfortunately, Minnie Driver’s portrayal of the character is neither fun nor meaty. Second of all, you need one helluva singer as Carlotta, and the fact that Driver was 100% dubbed is just inexcusable. I could forgive this dubbing if she’d given a dazzling performance in the movie, but she did not even do that; why, then, couldn’t they have chosen an actress who actually had some operatic training? Friends, I have no decent answer…only the memory of one of my favorite musical characters preserved on film in a cringe-inducing way.

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3. Lucille Ball in Mame

This casting blunder is a perfect example of how no matter who you are as a performer, there can still be a wrong role for you. We may love Lucy, and granted, she could have been a terrific Mame Dennis if the movie had been made 20 years earlier. But Mame is supposed to start off in her 30s or 40s…not her 60s. I really hate saying that someone is too old or even too young for a role, but in this case, it matters because Mame’s story spans a few decades. Therefore, the actress must age believably. What makes this tale even more egregious is that most of the original Broadway cast got to reprise their parts. But not Angela Lansbury, who was deemed to not be a big enough “name.” And so we got this cinematic shame. “Maaaaaame…!” (P.S. Do you guys believe the rumor that they put gauze over the camera lens to mask Lucille Ball’s age?)

2. Cameron Diaz in Annie

‘Scuse me for a minute; I need to drink some Pepto to ensure that I don’t lose my lunch while typing this. When I heard that Diaz had been cast as the formidably fabulous Miss Hannigan in the second screen remake of Annie, I knew it could not end well. Hannigan is a theatre character who is very near and dear to my heart, so perhaps I’m pickier than most. But still…you can’t walk into a role like hers with a wimpy singing voice, awkward comedic timing, and a sympathetic characterization. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Miss Hannigan is not meant to be humanized. She’s a classic villain archetype and that is what makes her so awesome. Not to mention that Cameron Diaz’s interpretation of “Little Girls” is one of the worst songs I’ve ever had to listen to.

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1. Russell Crowe in Les Miserables

I actually think Cameron Diaz’s Hannigan is worse than Russell Crowe’s Javert. However, he took the top spot because the situation suffers from “Minnie Driver in Phantom syndrome” as well as “Lucille Ball in Mame disorder.” Crowe had the wrong voice for Javert (though at least he wasn’t dubbed). However, he is also a megastar, so choosing him for the role over a richer baritone (i.e. my beloved late Alan Rickman) must have seemed like good business sense. In my opinion, the performance of the Inspector anchors Les Mis just as much as Valjean’s, so the project as a whole suffered. This differs from Diaz’s scenario, since Annie turned out to just be a lousy film; Les Miserables could’ve been truly spectacular if every lead role were cast correctly. Oh well, as the French would say…c’est la vie.

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