Rated G and for good reason. What? Where am I supposed to go from here? There's almost nothing to admonish in Hello, Dolly! I suppose I could come down on the way that the movie treats the institution of marriage, but that's more a comment about a cultural norm in a different era. It's pretty darned tame. A well-deserved G rating.
DIRECTOR: Gene Kelly
My wife keeps picking this movie for family movie night because it keeps coming in these musical collections. Despite the fact that this has to be a third viewing in five years, I still have no real understanding for one of the most basic plots of all time. Maybe my brain won't let anything kind of absurdity into my brain, but I always get actively frustrated with this film. Maybe it's because the movie has too many characters and just runs crazy long. Maybe its because a lot of the songs don't really advance the plot that much. Regardless, I tend to ask a lot of questions while watching this movie that seems to annoy my wife
The goal of this movie is the part that frustrates me. Dolly Levi / Barbra Streisand (I will be interchanging both "Dolly" and "Barbra" a lot through this article because I see more Streisand than Levi in this role), as a matchmaker, is trying to set herself up with a second husband. Her first husband died and it seemed like she was madly in love with him. Cool. I get that she understands how marriage works. But she is actively pursuing Horace Vandergelder / Walter Matthau (Again, same deal) because he's rich? Okay, I've seen this plot before. I can even get behind this plot. But the point of a movie like this is that Vandergelder is supposed to become a better person through her interactions with Dolly. I don't really get that. The movie starts with a goal of getting Vandergelder's fortune and it kind of ends on the same note. I talked about this idea with My Fair Lady. But My Fair Lady at least does the audience the courtesy of lying to us and pretending that Henry Higgins is a better person. Horace Vandergelder...really never changes. The movie even, for the sake of spectacle, ends with a mega-mix of all of the songs, which includes the "Dainty Woman" song amongst it. He hasn't grown in the least from the beginning.
And that's what really has me confused. Dolly doesn't exactly look like she's strapped for cash. She leads this very extravagant lifestyle. But let's pretend that maybe she's not as well off as she comes across. Sure, I may have missed that part. It is really hard to pay attention to the first half of the movie, shy of the Wall-E segments of the film. Let's pretend that Dolly is on the verge of being destitute. Everyone in this movie is in love with Dolly Levi, hence the titular song. Everyone loses their minds whenever Dolly shows up. Really, her matchmaking thing seems like this hobby to keep her rich mind occupied. I get that she's a trope. Wheels within wheels, plans within plans. So her big plan was to marry a huge turd? It's not like it's my opinion that might be unpopular that he's a jerk. That's his character. No one likes him. He's played by Walter Matthau for goodness' sake. But he never changes. From moment one to the end, he's a huge jerk. Is her plan to turn him into the perfect suitor? It really doesn't seem so because she would have mentioned it? She may have put him through more paces. Her entire plan surrounds the idea that he's going to go on a bunch of terrible dates to make the actual date great. That's a pretty small scope.
As much as the primary conflict is Dolly's, I care far more for the employees of the shop. I know that one of them is named "Barnaby" because of Wall-E again. Those guys have a great through line and a story that works really well narratively. I think it's Cornelius Hackl who states his goal for the film clearly: "We aren't leaving New York until we're kissed by girls" or something like that. Sure, the goal is a bit regressive, but it is also concrete. They have obstacles: they're broke and have never been kissed. They run into two girls whom they adore. These girls are completely out of their leagues, both financially and confidently. There's some dramatic irony where we know that the boys are more broke than they let on. This is all the stuff that we need to tell a good story. Everything that's tacked onto that story is only extra. They can't afford the bill. They get discovered, but the girls don't care. They all have to find a way to pay. There's a dance contest. It's clean storytelling and I absolutely adore it. I don't think I've ever seen a B story so gloriously outshine an A story.
Thank goodness for her conversations with her dead husband, or else Dolly would be completely unlikable, or at least unrelateable. She is too perfect of a character. People literally burst into song whenever she walks into a room. So what makes her compelling? Perhaps the reason why I never really get emotionally invested in Hello, Dolly! is that I know that Dolly has too much control. She's borderline Harold Hill. But Harold Hill's confidence is in defiance of the odds. The deck seems stacked in Dolly's favor. The only real obstacle is that Vandergelder is a grump. That's pretty low. If she doesn't hook this bait, who cares? I actually think that her life would be better.
Hello, Dolly! is a pretty movie full of nice songs. But considering that Gene Kelly is directing this film, it doesn't really scream anything Gene Kelly. It's a musical. That's it. I wish I got behind this movie. I would love to have Hello, Dolly! on a favorites list, but it does nothing for me. It's long. I care more about the side characters. It's a pretty movie that just stumps me.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.