In this beloved musical effort set against the backdrop of the 1903 World’s Fair, Judy Garland sings her way through a world where the most pressing problem of the day is the fact that the boy-next-door’s tailor is closed meaning that he can’t get his tuxedo in time for the big graduation dance.
As is to be expected in this kind of film, the lovable grandfather comes through and lends his tuxedo to the young man. I’m not sure what it says about Judy’s date that he would have the same build as a seventy year old man, but this was back in olden times where chicks actually wore corsets instead of letting their beer bellies hang over the fraying elastic waistband of their stretch pants like so many of St. Louis’ women do today.
Judy Garland plays Esther Smith, the second child in a family of four, snobbish, social climbing, and whining daughters. The Smiths have it rough, what with their father being a fancy lawyer and only having one maid and all, but somehow they make it through the hard times, their hearts kept warm with the knowledge that the World’s Fair will be opening up in their neighborhood the next year.
Esther is hung up on John Truitt, a generic dude that lives next door and that she pines after for no good reason. When Esther isn’t singing about how much she loves John Truitt or how much she enjoys riding trolley cars, the movie focuses on her kid sister, Tootie.
Tootie is about five years old is one of those precocious movie tots that gets into all kinds of mischief like singing drinking songs at Esther’s parties, throwing flour in the face of mean neighbors and derailing trolley cars.
Tootie gets herself all busted up in the big trolley car crack up and immediately begins selling the idea that it was John Truitt that inflicted the injuries upon her by beating her up. Aside from the fact that Tootie is the coolest five year old you ever saw outside of a juvenile detention center, you have to really question Esther as she swallows this line of malarkey and marches on over to John Truitt’s house to teach him a lesson.
The best part of Tootie’s story is that I don’t think she ever came out with a discernible motive as to why Truitt laid her out like the five year old girl she was. Esther goes over there and assaults John, then comes back and finds out that maybe Tootie was not being entirely truthful about it. Initially she’s mad at Tootie because she caused Esther to go beat up her true love, but since this is a feel-good movie about small town dummies, they all have a good laugh about the incident in pretty short order.
The real drama occurs when daddy Smith comes home one night and announces that he has just gotten a kick ass lawyering job in New York City!<>
Everyone else in the family looks at him like he cut a smelly Kansas City fart! Immediately all the women prattle on about how they simply can’t move to the City because Rose is graduating and needs to find someone dumb enough to marry her, Esther is going to be a senior, but most of all because St. Louis is going to have the World’s Freaking Fair!
Naturally, this causes Tootie to suffer a complete emotional breakdown. It all happens when she gets sad around Christmas time about leaving St. Louis. She throws a classic temper tantrum that involves her bashing a bunch of completely fake snowmen that the family had built earlier.
Esther comforts her and they get her all settled down and the old man eventually realizes that having five or six women (depending on if you count the maid who doesn’t know her place) pissed at you when you’re trying to start a new job, just isn’t worth the professional opportunity and advancement you would be gaining, so he announces that they are in fact staying in St. Louis, causing real New Yorkers everywhere to breathe a sigh of relief.
The movie then peters out as they go to the World’s Fair and everyone creams their pantaloons over the gaudy lights that adorn the exhibit halls.
The musical numbers include a variety of slow songs I couldn’t remember (I did recall the title tune, that horribly cheesy Trolley Song, and the classic Christmas song) and the fact that they tried to “integrate” the music into the movie meant you didn’t get any big show stopping production numbers.
There’s some rather bland hoe-down style dancing and the closest thing you get to a memorable song and dance number is when Esther and Tootie team up with hats and canes to do some kind of cake walk. (You’re not really going to count the number where they just lurched back and forth on that fake trolley are you?)
The story is just too thin to support this film for almost two hours. Slice of life movies tend to be episodic (read: meandering), but things of some interest need to occur regularly. Nothing much really happened to this family that I felt like I needed to see.
Garland is a pro, but the material she has here is over-rated, over-ripe, gooey Americana that turns you off more than makes you nostalgic with its absurdly unrealistic view of life at the beginning of the 20th Century. It felt like it was more a product of the St. Louis Area Chamber of Commerce rather than an actual motion picture.
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