Friday, June 04, 2021

Believe Care Invest: Soul

40 something would-be jazz musician Joe Gardner teaches talentless middle-schoolers and gets offered a full time job. He visits his mother’s tailor shop, where she orders him to take the job. He agrees, but then an old student calls him and offers a chance to audition for one of his favorite musicians, Dorothea Williams. He passes the audition, and he’s excitedly telling a friend about it on the phone while walking home when he falls into a manhole and seemingly dies. He finds himself in “The Great Beyond.”

Why Joe might be hard to identify with: He’s a bit of a loser, still having his mother wash his underwear (with holes in it.) He insults his kids’ playing to the principal.

  • Externalized emotions: He looks at his wall of great jazz musicians and wants to be one.
  • Signature wardrobe: turtleneck and hat.
  • His students are terrible and check their phones in class.
  • Ironically, good news is the last thing he wants to hear: “I wanted to deliver the good news personally: No more part time for you. You’re now our full time band teacher! Permanently!” He winces to hear this.
  • His mother doesn’t want to hear about his dreams: “After all these years, my prayers have been answered: A full time job.” “Yeah, mom, but” “You’re going to tell them yes, right?” “Don’t worry, mom, I got a plan.” “You always got a plan. Maybe you need to have a back-up plan too…We didn’t struggle giving you an education so you could be a middle-aged man washing your underwear in my shop. With this job, you’ll be able to put that dead-end ‘gigging’ behind you…And just think, playing music will finally be your real career.” It’s painful to hear.
  • Dorothea Williams gives him a withering look. “So, we’re down to middle school band teachers now?”
  • He seemingly dies on the day all his dreams were coming true (after telling his student, “I would die a happy man if I could perform with Dorothea Williams.”)
  • Despite the fact that his students aren’t very good yet, we can tell from his lecture and the way he plays for them that he’s a good teacher. And one student is good: “Connie got a little lost in it. That’s a good thing.”
  • He’s good enough to pass the audition. He gets in the zone.
Strength / Flaw: Great musician who gets in the zone / zoned out


Nat 20 said...

I watched Soul right after reading Secrets of Story, so it jumped out at me that it breaks a rule off the bat: never give a character's backstory in the same scene where they're introduced. We get Joe's "jazz club with his dad" flashback in the very first scene of the movie, and it doesn't really add anything. Like yeah, we get it, dude loves jazz.

It also lacks irony--apparently he loves jazz because he heard some jazz once and it was great. (Though there's a suggestion later on that it was something he shared with his dad, so maybe there was backstory there that got cut.)

But I thought it was an awkward moment that broke up the BCI of establishing Joe's character. We didn't need to know why he loves jazz yet, and I doubt we ever needed to know. Considering that the whole movie is about him learning to see past his obsession, it would have weakened it to give him an external reason for that obsession.

Matt Bird said...

Interesting point! You're right, it does kind of break those rules (don't reveal backstory in a character's first scene and never reveal non-ironic backstories). I thought it got away with it because that anecdote he tells seemed to me like it was less about dumping his backstory and more about showing that he was a good teacher, which was important for BCI. And it was a *little* ironic, in that he says a jazz club was the last place he wanted to go, or something like that. Going to the club certainly reversed his expectations.