The Blues Brothers is a film that I have been told to watch numerous times and it turns out there was a good reason for that. It hearkens back to a time when movies from SNL alumni were, well, good. Don’t get me wrong, some of the efforts of Tina Fey and Will Ferrell are amusing but they don’t hold up to repeated viewing the way a truly great movie does. This is where The Blues Brothers sets itself apart. Not only is it funny it is also a good story which can hold up to repeated viewings and remain entertaining even once you know the jokes. So now I’m going to do what one of my friends has been doing for years and tell you to hurry up and watch this movie… go on, I can wait.
Jake Blues (John Belushi) is released from prison on parole and is picked up by his brother Elwood (Dan Aykroyd). The simultaneously deadpan and charismatic brothers then return to the orphanage where they grew up. They find out that it’s going to be closed due to owing a $5000 property tax and decide to do something about it. To begin their journey of redemption they visit a church where they receive a mission from God. Jake and Elwood realise that the best way to get the money is to get their band back together. On the way to getting the band back together and raising the $5000 the Blues Brothers get on the wrong side of the police, a country band, a would-be assassin, and somehow even Nazis. This all culminates in delightful absurdity as they race to pay the money while it seems that no one can stop them but everyone is trying to. Cameos and songs from musicians such as Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles are peppered throughout.
The music is definitely an outstanding part of the film, both the cameo numbers and the songs by the Blues Brothers themselves. Aside from the performance of each song being great the music acts as a nice positive counterbalance to all the negative stuff which mounts against the brothers as the film progresses. This fact that the positive moments and the negative moments are made emphatically clear works in concert with Jake and Elwood being played in a very straight-faced way. Jake and Elwood act in a straight man role to allow the rest of the movie to provide wackiness which makes it so entertaining.
In addition to providing the comedy, the juxtaposition of the chaos which hounds them wherever they go and the straight-faced brothers adds a certain charm to the film. This is part of what makes The Blues Brothers so unique and allows it to hold up to multiple viewings.
Another refreshing aspect of the movie is that it starts in the middle of a story, so we don’t have to watch the origin story of the band. I know that lots of movies do (did) this but it seems like every superhero movie, reboot, and remake starts from square one. None of them trust that the audience can follow along without the story being presented in the simplest way possible. The Blue Brothers is great because it doesn’t underestimate its audience in the way that some recent films do. It allows us to pick up details from context instead of beating us over the head with them (if I have to see Batman’s parents or Spiderman’s uncle killed one more time I’m going to scream).
The opening sequence is a great example of character introduction and film as a visual medium. Without hearing him speak or even seeing his face we get a solid impression of who Jake is from the setting, his body language, and other people’s reactions to him.
There were a couple of, very minor, negatives. The film gets off to a slightly slow start but if you can make it to Aretha Franklin’s scene it’s all uphill from there. For a comedy it didn’t make me laugh all that much which, admittedly, is subjective. Because of how much bigging up I’d experienced about this movie I was expecting Airplane levels of laughs but it’s a very different style of comedy. It’s still funny in places and definitely a joy to watch but the entertainment is more in the absurd chaos surrounding the brothers than in gut-busting one liners. That being said the entertainment is still abundant. I think that any negative opinions of this film stem from the fact I was watching it with certain preconceived notions of what I was going to see. Therefore if people haven’t been pestering you to watch it for years it could well appear flawless.
All in all The Blues Brothers is an incredibly entertaining film with fantastic songs, quotable moments, and a unique comedic voice. Despite differing from my expectations the overall experience was incredibly enjoyable. I highly recommend this film, it has so many well executed layers which come together to form something distinct and amusing. However if you do watch it don’t expect it to be something it’s not just enjoy it for what it is: a musical maelstrom of comedy and chaos.