A Critical Analysis of Xanadu
By: Liz Taylor
If you’re anything like me, and I know you are, you’ve spent countless hours skimming away through the seemingly endless yet limited Netflix instant streaming menu looking, nay, yearning for something thrilling that has somehow fallen through the cracks of your radar. We’ve all seen it there looking up at us with its glamorous shimmer and pastel frosting waiting to be chosen. Day after day we continue to pass it up for something we deem to be a better choice. We come up with excuse after excuse, “I’m too tired,” “I’m not in the mood,” “I don’t have enough drugs to get through it tonight.” Well I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. Make haste and don’t waste another day avoiding Xanadu. There aren’t enough thumbs in the world to give up for this hallowed gem. I haven’t been hit this hard since Jesus Christ Super Star. This movie was so cheesy that I was literally constipated after watching it.
Xanadu is like an alchemist’s sacred and cherished elixir – as formulaic as they come; a little bit Weird Science, with a dash of Mannequin, topped off with a sprinkle of Dirty Dancing and all of the over-performed dialogue you could expect from a Steven Seagal movie. It has glitz, glamour, and seemingly pointless moments of rag tag banter. The ever so gentle conflict is further cushioned by moments of over the top, yet sincere comradery. I can’t think of a better palette cleanser to watch after the news.
Xanadu stars Olivia Newton John, the dude from The Warriors, and a younger, “poor man’s version” of the dad from Frasier. The male protagonist (Dude from The Warriors) skates through his daily routine as whimsically and “devil may care” as he skates through his emotional challenges and plot conflict. I was tickled that his nightmare sellout job was painting album covers. A self-proclaimed artist that shouldn’t be dreaming, who’d rather spend his time as a freelancer who cranks out halfheartedly composed still life artwork from home, is suddenly approached by a beautiful muse Olivia Newton John, to open the ultimate roller disco. Which brings me to our muse’s performance. A true Vaudevillian, Olivia Newton John whips it all the way out and waves it in you face with acting, singing, dancing, and skating skills that will be sure to knock your socks off.
I basked in ecstasy as it reassured me minute after minute that it was gratuitously littered with my all time favorite fantastical escape. The 80’s were the glory days of the spontaneous, carefree dance/musical montage. A moment poised in the eve of dwindling innocence when a man and a woman could bust out into a dance number straight faced and mean it. The 80’s’ wide-eyed naivety made it okay for a grown-ass man and a grown-ass woman to spend their days roller skating around town and to be so outstanding at it that it is their very destiny to open a roller disco – a task of such great importance that it merits the attention of Zeus’s very own daughter, the muse Kerra..
I was struck by the openness and immediacy of the couple’s extremely vulnerable and intimate affection and feared that they might be rushing in blind to a relationship with a stranger they know little to nothing about. I was also taken a aback when I considered how ballsy it is to just go out roller skating around town. You have no shoes. You’re totally committed to the skates. At least with a skateboard you can jump off. You actually become one with your skates whether you like it or not. What if you need your shoes. At one point The Warriors Dude had to break into a building all Bruce Willis style. He has to climb up the side of a building and break in through a window and walk up to Olivia Newton John and hit on her all in his socks. That takes confidence.
The visual effects played their own character in this movie. The film is a playground for an emboldened but much appreciated attempt to take a technical faux pas, a purple aura around the subject (due to technical mistakes whilst chroma- keying), and turn it into a cheap yet dazzling visual trick. However; the visual effects were merely subtle nuances set in place to underscore the film’s rocking John Carpenter-esque synthy disco soundtrack.
What better way to celebrate such a snazzy soundtrack than with out of control dancing? I love all of the big band 40’s flashbacks. I particularly got a kick out of the Dandy Sailor who did a diddy and then back flipped into a pile of dapperly duded daddios.
I’d like to highlight particularly my favorite musical/dance/skate montage in which the two star-crossed lovers, Olivia Newton John, and The Warriors Dude, break into a building to have a lovers' frolic through what I can only describe as an abandoned roller skating rink / indoor putt-putt golf course. I revelled in the moment where Olivia Newton John tries to skate all seductively at The Warriors Dude through the plastic palm trees of the desert mirage set. The highlight for me was when they momentarily stepped away from their lovers' frolic mid-song to sit on a park bench and simultaneously tussle one another’s hair before being snuck up on by what appears to be a giant robot. They merrily escape in the nick of time to avoid being scalded by steam that spontaneously begins to geise from the ground beneath the bench where they sat. It reminded me very much of the Nine Inch Nails show I saw at Bonnaroo on mushrooms. Come to think of it, I would very much like to watch this movie on mushrooms, although it is definitely more than palatable without them.
The dancing grows more and more out of control until it finally climaxes in the over the top opening night of what essentially boils down to a roller skating rink. It goes so well in fact, that it takes a strange turn and escalates into a militant, fascist rally in the name of Xanadu.
Just when I thought this movie couldn’t top itself again, it turned into a cartoon of a lovers' frolic beneath the sea. Although it relied heavily upon the comic relief of cute yet clumsy animals, this animated interlude provided a much needed intermission to relieve oneself or refresh one’s buzz. I couldn’t help but also notice that Olivia Newton John’s character Kerra behaved way sluttier as a cartoon than her live action counterpart.
Who does this movie think it is? Just when I thought I could relax and settle in to riding it out until the end, that Jon Bon Jovi lookin’ mutherfucker from The Warriors went quantum and cross dimensionally skated to the other side to pledge his undying love for Kerra to the voice of Zeus himself.
This film had everything from a musical montage of people trying on clothes to thematic damning of the man. I realize now I wasn’t avoiding Xanadu. I was saving it for a rainy day.