The night before watching The Five Heartbeats I watched Cats for the first time. Personally, it’s one of the worst things my ears had the displeasure of hearing. I can only imagine hearing someone being slowly tortured and dying is more appealing than Cats. At first I believed it must be me, that I wasn’t getting something since Cats is one of the most successful Broadway musicals. After watching The Five Heartbeats I realize it’s not me. I obviously can still recognize what great music is because The Five Heartbeats is one of the greatest soundtracks I’ve heard while Cats sounds like an attempt to make the worst musical that happened to be successful similar to The Producers.
The Five Heartbeats is a fictional account of a singing group that rises to fame and experiences all the good and bad aspects that fame brings. It’s directed by and stars one of the most underrated talents of all time, Robert Townsend. The way Townsend conquered racial satire with Hollywood Shuffle and then made a superior musical drama four years later is amazing and it’s remarkable how varied the man’s creativity is.
Since this is a musical the soundtrack is by far the most important part and it delivers in every way imaginable and then some. Most notably, the song We Haven’t Finished Yet is incredibly powerful and high in quality with the very talented Tressa Thomas belting out the track. Listening to this song will make you feel like someone is reaching down into your soul and pumping you up with energy which is such a rare feeling. A similar feeling is felt throughout the film with songs like A Heart Is a House for Love where the group wins over a crowd heavily against them, a scene that makes one feel like they’re in the room discovering one of the most talented groups.
I couldn’t talk about this film without mentioning the baffling fact that this film currently has a 38 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s quite evident that most film critics should take a day off when musicals are being reviewed. I love the critically acclaimed La La Land, something I saw four times in theaters…….but there’s no alternative universe where Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone could compete with the talents on this soundtrack. When I see how critically acclaimed La La Land is and how shunned The Five Heartbeats was, I guess it isn’t surprising when the phrase “Oscars So White” becomes a trend and the only time Hollywood appreciates a black film is when it’s about slavery.
Roger Ebert, while being one of the few critics who gave this film a positive review made a point that only a clueless white man could make.
“There is one obligatory scene showing racial prejudice against the group, and it seems a little tacked on, as if the only purpose of the Southern trip was to justify the scene.”
What Ebert fails to comprehend as the fact most groups similar to The Five Heartbeats probably went through such a horrifying moment. If The Temptations or The Four Tops saw this film, I imagine the hair stood on the back of their necks as they shook in their seats and had a repressed flashback.
While a moderate success for the time, a film of this caliber deserves much more. If you have Netflix, do yourself a favor and give The Five Heartbeats a view.