Melanie Martinez vs. The Rabbit of Caerbannog
K-12 (2019): 8 out of 10: First a disclaimer I like to go into movies blind but I may have taken this one a bit too far. I had never heard of Melanie Martinez and I had no idea this was a musical (justwatch.com has it listed as horror and fantasy.)So when I got a Wes Anderson inspired pop musical written, directed and starring a singer I never heard of I did the only logical thing. I loved it.
The Good: Let us start with the obvious, the music. It is superb. Melanie Martinez crafts some very good tunes with a couple of earworms thrown in. There was only one song where I kind of meh’ed out which is an excellent track record for an hour and a half musical. (Even my favorite musicals invariably have a tune or two that one kind of just sits through.)Martinez also doesn’t fall for the trap of having some idiot “rap” in the middle of her beautiful song, thereby ruining it. A common issue with many female pop stars. Honestly, it shows confidence in her own voice and talent that she doesn’t go for such crutches.
While Wes Anderson is the obvious go to with the visuals there are plenty of influences in K-12. the story borrows heavily from Heathers and Carrie but there are touches from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Brazil, Snowpiercer, kawaii culture, and a dozen others. Magic realism is in play here, which turns out to be a solid and delightful choice.
A real shout out to the choreography of the various dance numbers. This is a very polished film. The costume and set design are also on point and are as much stars of the film as the music is. As a director Melanie Martinez has captured a style and feel that many professional directors working in Hollywood struggle with. This movie is a visual treat and a visual triumph.
The Bad: It’s a good thing I like the music and visuals because the story is non-existent. The movie often seems like a collection of music videos with the same set and theme. Not that there is anything wrong with that per se, but some people like a story with their movie. The visuals and music are potent enough, in this case, to make it work.
The Ugly: Melanie Martinez’s songs are political and often invoke a powerful point of view. It works in a lyrical form. When she tries to do the same thing with dialogue, it seems ham-fisted and kind of stuck in there to gain unnecessary woke points. It is as if she read a dozen Jezebel articles while writing this movie and said, oh, I should mention that.
As a result, we get left field conversations about how a woman has two holes, a Shylockian speech from a transitioning teacher (who never appeared before and never appears after), a speech about how tampons should be free (which makes zero sense in the context of the scene as the issue was they were out of tampons not that they couldn’t afford them. If the tampons were free, the tampon machine would still be empty.) To show the level of carefulness in crafting a point of view toxic shock syndrome survivors get a shout out during the free tampons spiel cause got forbid someone in a victim group is left out.
In conclusion: I really liked this. The little touches (teachers snorting coke off the blackboard, The giant rabbit guards) add to a lot of the joy. While it doesn’t all work for me (The love interest was one of those inoffensive as possible guy tropes and seemed very tacked on) the overall package is excellent. I look forward to what Melanie Martinez has planned for next. She has some impressive talent.