I enjoyed this movie. It consists of a bunch of musical vignettes and montages loosely tied together by the overarching plot of a singing competition. The musical numbers are mostly solid, and there are some genuinely funny recurring gags. There are parts that don’t quite click for me, but you won’t regret watching it.
Fair warning: major spoilers below.
The story revolves around a theater on the verge of bankruptcy and the cast of characters that it brings together. We open with Buster Moon, a character who falls in love with the theater at a young age, owns it as an adult, and spends his days coming up with ways to keep it afloat. The main plot begins with his latest scheme, a singing competition with a cash prize. Surely a $1,000 cash prize will attract enough talent and audience to save the theater. It’s the perfect plan. Until Ms. Crawly, Buster’s assistant, accidentally prints $100,000 on the flyers instead. The flyers blow out the window, and Buster is forced to find a way to come up with the prize money before the show.
The next chunk of the film is dedicated to meeting the contestants:
Johnny is born into a family of criminals. He’s torn between following in his father’s footsteps and following his true dream of singing.
Rosita is stuck in a rut. Raising her 25 children is stressful, her husband works too much, and she doesn’t have an outlet to express herself.
Meena is too shy to sing in public despite the support of her family.
Mike is an unscrupulous, over-confident gambler who brings some nice variety to the musical numbers.
A handful of other characters that round out the group and provide some good jokes.
While the audience is introduced to these other characters, Buster is unsuccessfully trying to convince his best friend’s grandmother (Nana) (who just happens to be the famous performer that inspired Buster’s love of theater as a child) to save the theater. The theater is mostly destroyed by the mob while chasing Mike down for money he owes them. Despite the destroyed theater and the lack of prize money, all of the contestants gather to sing anyway. A crowd gathers, including Nana. Nana is so impressed that she decides to fund the theater after all.
Most of the movie remains unchanged, but my version would introduce a few small changes to Johnny, Rosita, and Buster.
In Johnny’s original story, he abandons a robbery with his father’s crew to sing in the competition resulting in his father’s arrest. He’s hidden his love of singing from his father his whole life. We can give Johnny’s father a nice redemption story if he turns himself in to allow his son to have a better life than he did. There’s almost no plot change here, just some added dialog to the arrest scene.
Rosita is a great character that should be fleshed out more. We see bits and pieces of her story, but she deserves more screen time. There’s already a relatable emotional story there, but we didn’t get to see enough of it.
Finally, the largest change is to Buster. He’s too cheerful and optimistic throughout the whole film. We’ll roll the personalities of Nana and Mike into his character (the characters can stay, but they’re less prominent in this rewrite). Our new Buster is a bit older, much more bitter and jaded, and now treats the theater as nothing more than a liability. He still knows the theater is about to go under. He can’t pay to keep it up and running and certainly can’t pay off his gambling debts. There’s no longer anything special about the theater. Instead of trying to save it, he’ll hold the singing competition and run off with the money from the ticket sales. The theater still gets destroyed as in the original version leaving Buster with an insurance payout he can also run away with. On his way out of town, he sees the crowd gathered at the ruined theater. The ad-hoc show reminds him of what he loved about the theater to begin with, and he turns around and tells everyone he has the money to rebuild.
Rosita’s story gets the treatment it deserves, Johnny learns that his father was there for him all along, and Buster’s passion for the theater and what it represents is revived. The theater is revitalized and never has an empty seat again.