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Directors of For Sama

Lulu Wang (The Farewell)
Ritesh Batra (Photograph)
Schmidt & Abrantes (Diamantino)
Wanuri Kahiu (Rafiki)
Jia Zhang-ke (Ash is Purest White)

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Soundtracking: "Big Mouth"

Chris takes on the original songs of Netflix's new raunchy delight...

Have you caught up to Netflix’s newest and filthiest animated series Big Mouth? From the minds of Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, it’s a take-no-prisoners look at puberty that’s actually rather sweet and thoughtful between cringeworthy, painfully reminiscent laughs. Now before you relegate it to the crass animated rung of less imaginative programs, take note that the show is quite surprising on many fronts - not least of which is its hilarious original songs.

The important role of music in youth is a recurring theme of this column but Big Mouth catches its young characters in an interesting middle ground, musically speaking. The onset of grown up hormones often means your musical tastes are growing up as well, leaving behind simpler tunes. Think of the show's musical stylings like a logical, but naughty progression from Schoolhouse Rock or Free to Be... You and Me: packed with valuable life lessons and annoyingly catchy. But rest assured, these NSFW tunes sound exactly right for characters pushing themselves to be more grown up - and all the pain of adulthood that awaits.

Like how South Park riffed on musical theatre tropes with crassness, Big Mouth plays with both the motivational song and burgeoning musical tastes. Though perhaps not as adult as the show’s theme song “Changes” by Charles Bradley - also brilliantly used this year on Big Little Lies - the show leans on the kind of music you would meet via a cooler older sibling. For starters, Jordan Peele voices the ghost of Duke Ellington singing about the seedy charm of New York City. Maya Rudolph gives good Whitney Houston riffs (it’s the closest thing yet to the Maya Rudolph musical we deserve, guys). And we get a gay extravaganza from Freddie Mercury!

Another common thread for teen stories is music’s ability to capture emotions on a deeper level than words can express, or to explore feelings the kids may not yet understand. In Big Mouth, Andrew can find clarity in exploring gay stuff or Jessi’s hormones can mariachi her into a sexy red bra with the help of a song. The interruption of song plays like a daydreamed sequence, the kids reverting into their imaginations as a coping mechanism or attention deficit impulse or both.

Also like South Park, its musical uplift is wholesome enough to gloss over the profanity or pain beneath the melody. Its a very silly show that comes from the very real embarrassment of growing up. Everyone surely had their own puberty playlist to the background of their suffering, and Big Mouth uses even that musical context to mine jokes from the subject. Given the influences here, I don’t even want to know what was going on when Kroll was listening to Queen, Prince, or R.E.M. when he was growing up.

But the show and its songs aren’t just about the gross stuff, though there is plenty to go around. puberty is more than bodily unfortunateness, it’s also a universal experience. In its most direct musical spoof, it turns the inescapable emotional pull of R.E.M.‘s “Everybody Hurts” to tie Jessi’s awkwardness of a first period to a larger adult context. Puberty is more than bodily unfortunateness, it’s also a universal experience. In what these kids are going through, they are just becoming one of the rest of us.

Previous Soundtracking Favorites:
Mistress America
The Breakfast Club

Almost Famous
Young Adult
A Mighty Wind
...all installments can be found here!

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