Shout (Jeffrey Hornaday, 1991)
It should say something about my reaction to this film that what I find most amusing about it is that a guy named Hornaday directed a movie about a music teacher and his charges. And that is the best thing about this otherwise generic, Lifetime Original Movie-bait inspirational romance claptrap, one of the movies John Travolta made during the long lull in his career between Blow Out and Pulp Fiction, presumably because he needed the money. It could have, should have, been Travolta’s return to the musical-comedy roots that had made him a household name almost fifteen years previously, except, well, pity about the script. The only reason this movie is still remembered, and still available, is that it was the film debut of a young actress by the name of Gwyneth Paltrow.
The film, set in Texas in 1955, concerns the youths who inhabit a boys’ home, technically an orphanage but run more like a reform school, with the sadistic Eugene Benedict (Logan’s Run‘s Richard Jordan) at its head. The boys’ home has a new charge, a dissolute rabble-rouser named Jesse Tucker (The Heights‘ Jamie Walters; he may be best-remembered as the lead vocalist on the show’s theme song, “How Do You Talk to an Angel?”, a top 40 hit in 1992) who seems destined for life in prison. Adding to the chaos are two events that happen simultaneously—Benedict’s daughter Sara (From Hell‘s Heather Graham) comes home from college for summer break, and Benedict hires a new music teacher, Jack Cabe (Travolta), to whip the school band into shape for their annual performance at the town’s Fourth of July shindig. The two kids, obviously, take a shine to one another immediately, though in true genre-romance-novel form, there must be many mishaps on the road to jumping between the sheets, while Cabe finds himself attracted to the sexy sister (The Last Seduction‘s Linda Fiorentino) of one of the local redneck constabulary. Which is doubly troubling, because Cabe is a fan of that new-fangled bop stuff that really doesn’t play well in racist Texas—unless, it seems, you are an inmate in a boys’ home, because once the kids hear it playing from his room at night, they beg him to drop Benedict’s curriculum and teach them that stuff.
Ah, the inspiration, it bleeds. In hindsight, there are some really interesting choices here. Linda Fiorentino, especially, before getting typecast in her post-Last Seduction hard-bitch roles, is a breath of fresh air. (Paltrow, by the way, has a minor role as a girls’-school love interest for one of the other boys’ home inmates.) Unfortunately, the principals are all phoning it in, especially Walters; he’s trying to do his best James Dean, and here, at least, he’s too young to realize that “often imitated, never duplicated” isn’t a crock. There are certainly flashes of Grease-era Travolta, especially in one early scene when he breaks into an improvised song while good-naturedly taunting Jesse, who’s working off punishment for one of his many infractions by digging a ditch. That scene, that single scene, gave me some hope that this movie might decide to drop the predictability, the inspirational nonsense, blah blah blah, and turn this into a good old musical fantasy romp Xanadu style. Hopes that, unfortunately, were dashed with every minute of film that unspooled after that. **