Would Dirty Dancing be remembered so fondly without the signature charms of Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes’ “I’ve Had The Time of My Life?” Would the painful resolution of 1997’s Titanic hit so deeply without the angelic tones of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On?” Maybe – but there’s no doubt that the long-lasting association with these tracks is inextricably linked. In any film genre reliant on the emotional investment of its audience, the musical scores play a huge part in creating and sustaining long-term success.
Ever since sometime around Garden State, ‘indie’ music has become commonly associated with romance and rom-com films in general. While it’s a nebulous term for a musical genre (supposedly referring more to economics than style), there is something about the combination of the sound’s often melancholic or hipster-like tones with the images of young, often bumbling and anxious people trying to navigate love. Therefore, here is a list of five romantic comedies over the past couple of decades which have had some of the best indie music soundtracks.
5 (500) Days of Summer
While the ’80s had Harry and Sally taking a road trip to New York, the ’00s had Summer (Zooey Deschanel) unexpectedly singing along to The Smiths in an elevator, played through headphones by Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Featuring musical interludes from a variety of artists, covering Simon & Garfunkel to Zooey Deschanel’s own band, She & Him, (500) Days of Summer utilized its track list to represent the social naivety of its protagonist.
Though the plot occasionally forayed into the “Disneyfication” of young love (including the cutesy montage of Tom dancing in an imaginary flash mob to “You Make My Dreams Come True” by Daryll Hall and John Oates), the soundtrack is ultimately melancholic in essence, including slower ballad songs like “Hero” by Regina Spektor. Ultimately, this film, with its self-referential nods to “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” has had a very palpable effect on the music choices portrayed in romantic comedies throughout the past decade.
4 The Perks of Being a Wallflower
It seems that a soundtrack containing The Smiths is a prerequisite for all indie early-to-mid-2000’s films – thankfully, The Perks of Being a Wallflower readily follows the trend. Originally based on the 1999 novel, which contained a similar variety of references to nostalgic songs throughout the narrative (including “Asleep” by The Smiths and “Scarborough Fair” by Simon and Garfunkel), the soundtrack held an emblematic appeal surrounding the notion of “coming of age.”
As Charlie (Logan Lerman) develops personally throughout the film, so too does his musical accompaniment, gradually advancing to include tracks by the Cocteau Twins, Throwing Muses and, in one brief nod to authentic adolescence, “Come On Eileen,” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners. During the final scene of the film, Charlie’s group of friends drives through a tunnel late at night while blasting “Heroes” by David Bowie, in what is a highly climactic end to a rites-of-passage story.
3 Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
Similarly based on a novel that contains a variety of song recommendations, Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist is a 2008 film that follows the story of Nick (Michael Cera) and Norah (Kat Dennings) as they spend a night in New York searching for a secret gig being held by their favorite band, Where’s Fluffy?
The soundtrack comprises some (at the time) obscure New York indie music, once described by the director Peter Sollett as “the best music you haven’t heard yet,” including musical cameos from Devendra Banhart, Vampire Weekend, The Dead ’60s and Takka Takka. While these songs may be unknown to international audiences, they are a pleasant diversion away from certain overly-repeated niches of the stereotypical Hollywood soundtrack.
Amongst the list of lesser-known yet equally revered indie films, Submarine holds a prominent reputation. Directed by Richard Ayoade and starring Craig Roberts as the film’s fifteen-year–old protagonist Oliver, who is set on losing his virginity and preventing his parents from getting divorced. The movie developed a cult following for its lifelike portrayal of complicated youth and faintly wistful acoustic soundtrack.
One of the most memorable elements of the score was that it predominantly featured new songs written and performed by Alex Turner of the indie-rock band Arctic Monkeys, alongside his The Last Shadow Puppets bandmate, James Ford. Though the soundtrack was a shift away from the typical sound of the Arctic Monkeys and towards a more home-grown acoustic appeal, the lyrical capabilities of Turner made this a highly successful foray into musical arrangement for film.
It’s official – any film that stars Michael Cera has to contain an abundance of indie music (here’s looking at you, Scott Pilgrim) and preferably some twee hand-drawn title cards. When referring to “indie soundtracks” of the past two decades, there’s a reason why Juno heads the top of the list.
With a score spanning The Kinks, Kimya Dawson in The Moldy Peaches, Sonic Youth, The Velvet Underground and Cat Power, the film perfectly blends the quaintness of a small-town adolescence with the magnitude of an unexpected teen pregnancy, while simultaneously encapsulating the ‘rom-com’ niche between Juno (Elliot Page) and Paulie (Michael Cera). Alongside its heavily cultivated ’00s aesthetic and unique perspective on the trials of first experiences, Juno is one of the most culturally significant indie films ever created, and with one of the best soundtracks. Garden State, eat your heart out.
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