I Have Confidence… In The Sound of Music

Go ahead … call it sentimental and saccharine, but this 50-year-old gem is more than raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.

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    Darren Elms

Wasn’t there perhaps one little von Trapp who didn’t want to sing his head off?” Pauline Kael famously said in her scathing review of the 1965 film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music.

Kael and many other critics of her time left the theatre with a not-so-satisfying, sugary taste in their mouths—unimpressed with its squeaky-clean sterility and over-the-top plot. Yet despite mediocre notices, the film became a hit with audiences, won the Oscar for Best Picture and even redeemed itself with cinema’s elite (#40 on AFI’s most recent 100 Greatest Films of All Time).

A holiday favorite on television, yearly recasts have endeared it to new generations over five decades. The Hollywood Bowl even hosts a sing-along every summer and a costume contest, to the delight of lifelong fans.

Full disclosure: It’s one of my favorite movies too. Like many other films first viewed as a kid, my 40-something self discover nuances and emotional hooks that didn’t quite register in my 7-year-old self. (“Edelweiss” … anyone?)

So you can imagine my fury when I hear friends or acquaintances casually dismiss The Sound of Music as nothing but sentimental schmaltz. That really puts my lederhosen in a twist.

Part of me gets where they’re coming from. Sure, it’s filled with kids, puppets and pillow fights. Not exactly the stuff of Citizen Kane. Fine.

But I have to wonder if these dissenters had the same opinion of the film as youngsters, singing along to “Do-Re-Mi” and eyeing the curtains in the room for a potential fashion statement. Could they just be a tad jaded … stuck in their car on the smoggy 405, searching through Spotify for a song to take the pain away, while Maria is free to roam the Alps, full of fresh air, blasting her own tunes at full volume?

Speaking of Maria, let’s break her down: She’s a novice who breaks all the abbey’s rules (you know, waltzes on her way to mass and whistles on the stairs), doesn’t take crap from a decorated navy captain with a whistle and courageously cares for his seven (seven!) children … even after they put a pinecone on her dinner seat. Rude.

To top it off, she respectfully abandons her vocation to the Big Guy so she can “Climb Every Mountain” and marry the man she loves. This girl’s got guts.

Still riled up by the critiques of a few peers, I decided to sit down my nieces, ages 2 and 6, for a home screening.

Her captain’s no slouch either. After Maria helps melt his heart with music, he ditches a wealthy Viennese baroness to marry a nun-in-training and, when the Nazis come knocking after the Austrian Anschluss in 1938, basically gives Berlin the bird by singing about a white flower and then hightails it for the Swiss border on foot with his family in tow. Pretty badass, if you ask me.

Yes, the movie took a few liberties with the von Trapp family story. (They simply took a train to Italy rather than hiking the Alps to freedom.) Despite the obvious embellishments, this was one awesome family. And they could sing. Take that, Kardashians.

Still riled up by the critiques of a few peers, I decided to sit down my nieces, ages 2 and 6, for a home screening. Even at their young ages, these two are pretty sophisticated when it comes to entertainment. Would the film endure a 2015 litmus test?

The younger of the two naturally bobbed her head up and down during the musical numbers, choosing “The Lonely Goatherd” to break out in dance. No surprises there.

Then I watched the older sister taking in the story, scene by scene, on her own. She seemed particularly invested in Julie Andrews’ performance and overall really enjoyed the movie, with much to say on the subject days after.


Beyond the singing, the scenery and the snowflakes on noses and eyelashes, she expressed admiration for Maria … not just the soprano or film character but the person. Here was a woman who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, challenged social norms, confronted her fears with courage and defiance and helped a family love again.

Maria von Trapp as role model? Must have done something good.