As we will probably make it a habit to cover movies about, or heavily influenced by music, the latest to be featured in our “Heard It On” section is the 2021 French-language “Playlist”. True to its title, the movie is a veritable “updated my playlist” kind of film, one which, if you’re a fan of indie rock or willing to alternate your Erik Satie with your punk, will have you googling long and hard (after you’ve watched the soundtrack titles in the end credits, of course). But don’t worry, we got you covered with all the songs featured in the movie in one place.
“Playlist” feels very similar in tone to Rachel Lang’s Ana trilogy, or the Laetitia Dosch-starring “Jeune Femme”, or the recent Norwegian is-it-too-early-to-call-it-cult-classic “Ninjababy”, or even – just because of the word “playlist” – “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”: a comedy that’s oh-so-quotable, with relatable characters, art references (Chris Ware is name-dropped) and its fair share of earworms. The protagonist, Sophie works as a waitress, but quits when she manages to land a job as a press manager for a comic book publisher (“Days of Bagnold Summer” is mentioned by description, and a seemingly fictional graphic novel – a crossover between Sophocles’s Philoctetes and the Amazon women of Greek mythology, someone, please make that happen! – exists in the movie’s universe). Describing all the ways in which the quest for love can go wrong and the difficulties in getting recognized as a graphic artist, the film is filled with zingers such as
“I didn’t tell you “I love you”, I said “I owe you!”, and you said “Me too”. I could tell you misunderstood, but I didn’t want to upset you…”
“I have lo-fi indie, then indie rock, then cold wave, new wave. And Black music.”
“Black music? What’s that, like…soul, jazz and rap? That’s segregation!”
Of course we are going to make a playlist for “Playlist”, but the song which impressed us the most wasn’t “Washer” by Slint, an obscure, depressing prog-rock track from 30 years ago which is arguably about suicide and which Sophie’s boyfriend rather amusingly uses as music for “setting the mood”…it was “The Other Girls”, by indie rock group The Vivian Girls.
On “The Other Girls”, The Vivian Girls recall the playful, experimental structures and rhythm shifts of bands like Stereolab and Malajube. The song best represents the characters in “Playlist”, which focuses on the “no man’s land” between millennials and “zoomers”, the young adult who resists easy labeling: “I just wanna spend my time inside…my mind“, Cassie Ramona and Katy Goodman declare, and if it seems like a cross between a punk-rock verse and a riot-grrl one, the band proclaims itself as neither (although critics are quick to mention both words when describing them):
“This music was, like a moving symphony or free-floating jazz jam, mainly about a feel, a sound. It had words, yes, but they were never intended to get in the way of the overall impact of the record.” – The Vivian Girls on their debut record
“Certainly the riot grrls inspired us to start playing music, but we’re not a riot grrl band ourselves. It is an honor to be mentioned in the category as those bands”
The group did spark a lot of interesting discussions on the Internet because of how people interpreted the things they said in interviews – a Perfect Sound Forever article discusses them in the context of male feminists, and Vice declares that “people had no clue what do with Vivian Girls”.
Meanwhile, we are hard-pressed to find ANY song that rocks as hard as “The Other Girls”, or “Light in Your Eyes”, with their iconic vocals, complex instrumental portions and killer outros. If you’re worried that the group is old news, in 2019 they released an album called “Memory”. Here’s the titular track, demonstrating how their style changed over the years into a more fuzzy, could-even-be-described-as-shoegaze noise-rock direction, while arguably managing to stay true to their punk roots.
In short, we recommend “Playlist” as your next music-infused watch – not only for the music, but also for that one scene we anticipate will cause a lot of heated debates and which probably caused MUBI to start the movie off with a VERY long list of trigger warnings. Be warned, but also…it’s not (entirely) what it says on the tin? To close off, we will make good on that “Playlist”-playlist promise. Here it is, with Lispector’s “House of Better Days” included separately because this movie’s indie cred managed to break Youtube – and we appreciate it when a movie does that.
Among our favorite finds from this playlist are the wild piano improvisation of Marian McPartland Trio – (jazz with Chopinesque sections is something we can proudly say is pretty rare in any given day, just give this a listen), a Serge Gainsbourg song performed by Nana Mouskouri, the afore-mentioned “Washer” and Lispector, which is the band featured the most. “Playlist” is a movie with a flawlessly-curated playlist, something to inspire and delight the music diehards and those looking for eclectic song choices.
“Playlist” is available to watch on MUBI.
Featured image from “Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth” by Chris Ware