Life is Not a Musical: The Musical – Movie Review

by iconmatthew1

Let me start off by saying that I will give you a fair warning before my review starts to let you know when I will start actually spoiling key elements of the plot of “Life is not a Musical” The Musical” which I will occasionally call “Life” for the sake of my fingers. So don’t worry if you haven’t seen it, most people reading this article probably haven’t. I understand that and the first 75% of this article will be spoiler free, and you will know how I feel about the movie in a holistic sense well before I start my slight spoilers.

You probably haven’t heard or seen “Life” due to the fact that is a recently released (at the time of this article’s inception) independent short film from Idea Box Productions and the Pepperdine Film Society. Now usually when I think of indie films, I think of a lot of montages involving grainy film, running down hallways and aisles, playing on the beach, smiling, free spirit young adults usually dealing with dark material. Or really cheesy SyFy Channel original movies. “Life” is neither of these, thank the Lord for that. It is a well thought out and executed independent musical romantic comedy. Yes that’s right its a musical, give yourself a star if you figured that out after reading the title of the film. If you just realized that now…..well…le’ts move on….

Clayton Snyder (left) and Jacob Shideler

Directed by Paul Casey who wrote the script with Zane Miller “Life is not a Musical: The Musical” focuses on a young man named Tom (Jacob Shideler). Also unlike most college made independent films the lead character is not in college. Good move there, as it allows Tom much more freedom in his character development. I’m a firm believer that college either molds you or hardens you and sometimes seeing that in a film with that frame just doesn’t work for the source material. Casey and Miller made the right choice making Tom a more unattached character. The more time I spend in college the more I tend to hate it, I was happily refreshed to see a movie made by collegiates that got out of that life sucking realm.

So as I started to explain before I interrupted myself “Life” focuses on Tom a young adult who is going through a rough time. He’s just gotten divorced from his wife Brooke (Jillian Lawson) and has lost his job. The two are so distant from each other at this point its hard to believe they ever liked each other let alone loved one another. Tom’s friends (Craig Knepley and Jeffrey Thompson) are about as useful as a plastic spork at a steak dinner. It seems the only one in the world who actually somewhat cares about him is his lawyer Carson (Clayton Snyder) and it could be argued he just wants to win the case and doesn’t care much about Tom as a person. Tom is forced to become a handyman for a local theater group where he works with the beyond bizarre Grover (Seth Allison). Eventually, as these musicals go Tom falls for a beautiful woman named Claire (Allegra Edwards). But there is competition from the snakey Adrian (Zach Garrett) , and before you know it BOOM you’ve got a musical and a darn good one at that.

I review and rank all the movies on a scale from 1 to 100 on my youtube channel and on here. 1 being absolute trash and 100 being perfect (An honor only given to “Toy Story 3” and likely never to be given again) but when grading “Life is Not a Musical: The Musical” it’d be unfair to rank it in comparison to big budget films, I’m not saying it doesn’t hold its weight against big budget films but there is a different approach you have to take when grading truly independent films. And this one truly is having spent well under 15K on the project.

Garrett’s cinematography is pitch perfect

The most important thing about a musical is the music. Colin Edge & Zane Miller penned the music and lyrics and let me say this is by far the strongest mark of the movie. I kid you not, big budget film or small budget small I WANT THIS SOUNDTRACK! I want it on itunes tomorrow and I want to own the CD so I can listen to it when I wake up in the morning. The songs are fun and catchy, and there is just the right mix of story and song, you never get too much of either and both are satisfying, but the musical numbers really stand out. A lot of credit has to be given to Layla Brisco for her job choreographing the unpaid talent in this project. Everything is so well executed you swear that these numbers once played on Broadway at some point. Zane and Colin could very well have a future in this genre as well as Layla.

The story is fairly generic but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Not every musical has to be a “Sweeney Todd” with a complex storyline interwoven into it all, musicals need to be fun and jazzy like this one every once in a while. Sure I knew where it was going most of the time but I didn’t care I was along for the ride, and I was entertained. Plus there were enough funny moments to keep me perky and again the musical numbers were hilarious in their own right when they needed to be. Sure maybe there could have been some more twists, but I’ll get into that later, talking about it now would spoil the movie. And you wouldn’t want that.

The cinematography is superb Zach Garrett who was the Director of Photography did a splendid job creating the atmosphere with just about every single shot, and when Zach couldn’t be behind the lens Austin Chapman lent his gifted eye to the reel. No scenes are sloppily shot and thats something you also must give credit to director Paul Casey for, sometimes (and this is something I do constantly) you become so obsessed with finishing the movie you don’t spend enough time on a scene making it look beautiful, but Zach and Austin saw the beauty in every scene and made love to each frame of cinema like it was Denise Milani, even if sometimes it didn’t come out looking like her you could always see the effort to make every shot interesting. Aspiring director of photographers and directors should seek this film out for simply the quality alone. Could learn a thing or two, I know I did.

Songs about divorce are always relevant

I’d have to say the biggest down tick of “Life” is some of the editing. And don’t jump on me editor of this film, you did a fantastic job, but certain scenes could have been tightened up. (I don’t know who edited the film, they did a good job they really did) but there were times like for example a very long dance warm up scene where it lagged. Yes the shots were beautiful but just like a good looking guy or gal sometimes you have to know less is more. I’m not claiming as a filmmaker that I’m impervious to this error, I’m just saying I noticed it in a few scenes of “Life” that’s all, god forbid I give out some level and fair handed criticism in this review. The editing was still top notch with many scenes and there was a great pace to the film besides a few missteps here and there.

The acting in this movie is above the standard fare of indie films, I mean its a musical were not going to get long dramatic monologues every other scene. Jacob Shideler who plays the lead does a good job playing the at times frustratingly shelled Tom and Allegra Edwards glows as Claire. The two play off each other well and have good chemistry and Allegra manages to make her character seem incredibly natural even in this musical world. The supporting cast is just as good Thompson and Knepley are funny as the useless friends and Lawson squeezes in some sympathy for her polarizing character as Tom’s ex-wife. Clayton Snyder of “Lizzie McGuire” fame is probably the heavy hitter in terms of relative star power in the film and he offers very nice moments of levity during the divorce angle of “Life”. Seth Allison is  a scene stealer as the creepy head janitor Grover and made me laugh everytime he was on screen. And Miriam McSpadden who plays Claire’s friend Aubrey offers up some really nice one liners and comebacks I wouldn’t dare ruin for you.

Of course kudos once again to the entire crew. Paul Casey and the assistant director Karee Maxson had a lot on their plate, luckily they also had people like Kinsey Cronin to lend a hand as production manager. Everyone associated with this project worked hard and you can color me impressed with the whole product, that’s why I’m giving “Life is not a Musical: The Musical” a 91/100 you can find out when the soundtrack and DVD will be released by clicking here. I should also come clean now and admit that I am lightly and very briefly associated with this film as I have a “Special Thanks” credit for my random and sporadic help on the film, most notably lending them a tripod. Which I’m not even sure they used. In the end this was a daunting task that most filmmakers would have either backed away from or gone up in smoke trying to complete but these ladies and gents pulled it off with style.

Dance for me my children! Dance! Dance!

WARNING: SOME SPOILERS AHEAD! IF you have not see “Life is not a Musical: The Musical” yet and want to be totally surprised nothing you read on from this point needs to be read. If you have seen the film and want to know a bit more about my thoughts on the cinematic effort please continue on.

One problem I couldn’t address much in the spoiler free review was some noticeable lack of character development. With a movie that is around 80 minutes long more could have been done. The most frustrating has to be Zach Garrett’s character Adrian. Adrian is the central external antagonist in the film, and yet he is reduced to basically two and a half scenes. We see him try and woo Claire and kind of fail, but delusional or perhaps uncaring he presses on. Then we really don’t get much more of him until he of course becomes a really mean guy and basically rough hands Claire. The monster! But that scene lacks a fire and build due to the fact that it offers little to be satisfied when Tom finally does punch Adrian. Adrian seems more like the guy Tom uses as his punching bag to vent his frustrations with life on. So what if he likes Claire? Have you seen Claire? It’d be hard for a dude not to like her, how does that make him a bad person? Oh yeah he’s mean to her, well its good enough but with a top notch actor like Mr. Garrett more could have been done to expand this character. Its not a huge black spot on the film but I’d say this kept it from being ranked a 93.

There is also the wise piano player who just seems to be there, and while funny and all I felt that if Tom’s character was spilling all this to him he should have been introduced in the linear storyline at some point, even if only briefly. But this is all small stuff who can resist a movie where you get to see Bill Szobody yell at “under performing” actresses? I’m being nit picky at this point, and I’m not saying I could do this better. If I was given this task I very well could have failed, and that is why I will close by giving props to Mr. Paul Casey and Mr. Zane Miller. This production worked with over 120 students Paul Casey who came up with the idea and concept for “Life” never gave up on his dream and thanks to help from Zane Miller who also pushed it to so many people it became a reality. I could give shout outs to various people who helped make this film what it is like Kyle Helf, Mishy Turner, Haven Nutt,  Carissa Gipprich, Erika Varela, Katie McDonough (okay fine! I’ll stop now!), but for the sake of trying to remain somewhat unbiased I’ll just leave you with the trailer for “Life is not a musical: the musical”. Enjoy!