Top critical review
The American Dream; or - Too Much of a Good Thing
June 25, 2009
There is one problem with watching "Yankee Doodle Dandy" despite the fact that James Cagney is superb in his underdog sort of role, the title songs and subsequent Americana ditties are toe-tapping from the start, as well as the cinematography and set design are Oscar-worthy - "Yankee Doodle Dandy" is just too long. Being a newbie to both the world of Cagney as well as American propaganda, "Yankee Doodle Dandy" seemed the best place to start, and from the opening scene of the birth of George M. Cohan (felt like Fincher borrowed this scene for his "Benjamin Button" film) on the 4th of July, there was this immediate attachment. This film was loud, flashy, and when Cohan began telling his life story to the President of the United States, I eagerly anticipated the results. Then, we leisurely waked through his life. When using the word "leisurely", it is straightforwardly inescapable. Be prepared for everything from his family's rise and fall to the eventual birth of every song, no stone is left unturned, and while that can be entertaining - it can also dwindle a great movie into mediocrity. That is what happened to "Yankee Doodle Dandy", this viewer went from singing the songs during the day to broodingly waiting for it to finally end. It was like a rollercoaster, it was at the utmost high, but then went shooting straight down once it was unable to find its ending.
"Yankee Doodle Dandy" is not just this never ending story that repetitively builds too much. It boasts an Oscar-winning performance for Cagney (who later gets type-cast as this "Public Enemy"), and it delivers. It boasts these huge, glorious musical numbers, and it arrives with bells on. It boasts pure, uncut, raw Americana and it nearly makes you want to stand up and sing. Thus, "Yankee Doodle Dandy" delivers exactly what one may want from a film like this. There should be no complains, right? Again, the length of this film began, as the third act blended into the fourth and so on, felt tedious, boring, melodramatic, and lacking focus. When Cohan finishes his speech with the President, the ending should have been in plain view. The long walk down the flight of iconic Presidents, it felt winded. The final shots were just focus-less. There should have been a fade to black long before that. On another note, from the beginning, I knew that Cohan was pure America, it was necessary to consistently repeat that idea. For example, the scene in which he attempts to join the army was ridiculous. The merit was there, but the essence of the scene was missing. Sure, Cohan can tap, but does that mean he should brandish a gun? Another great example of why "Yankee Doodle Dandy" began so well, but then felt as if we were stuffing the turkey too full - it was beginning to feel ... dare I say, more American...
To complete this discussion, I would like to reiterate again that "Yankee Doodle Dandy" (for the most part) had me tapping my toes and singing right along with the now infamous George M. Cohan. James Cagney was superb. His blend of humor, great dance, and exciting dialogue proved that he was more than just his later films. While this was a semi-ensemble film, each scene that Cagney was in (which was nearly all of them) he stole the scene. As audience, our eyes were fixated on what this "average joe" looking man was about to do next. Even his dancing seemed original. Yet, I regretfully admit it was just too long. The final act just felt flat, and when his conversation with the President ended, it should have faded then - instead the rest of the "filler" just felt stale. I loved this movie, I can suggest it to friends and family, but alas, be prepared for that final moment. "Yankee Doodle Dandy" felt like riding a roller coaster too many times, by the end, you just want to get off and savor the fun parts. By extending it too long, the sloppy ending ruined my savor for this film. Loved it. Liked it. Don't need to watch it again.
Grade: *** ½ out of *****