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Dave
  • Composed by James Newton Howard
  • La-La Land Records / 2013 / 68m (score 50m)

Ivan Reitman’s delightful 1993 Dave sees lookalike Kevin Kline temporarily stand in for the US President after he suffers a stroke (during sex) and – inevitably – prove to be more popular with the public (and indeed the first lady) than the real thing.  Today he’s well-known for his serious scores for Shyamalan films and others, but a couple of decades ago James Newton Howard was very frequently employed on this kind of gentle comedy, and Dave is undoubtedly the pinnacle of his achievement in the genre – I often think that comedy is possibly the hardest genre for a composer to write genuinely memorable music for, but Howard managed it very well here.  In many ways the score makes an unsurprising counterpart to Marc Shaiman’s similarly delightful The American President and Snuffy Walden’s music for The West Wing.

The oft-repeated main theme sums the whole score up – warm-hearted, lovely, sweet – in one word, “nice”.  There are various subthemes too – all cut from a similar cloth – and it ties together very well indeed.  Some will find it saccharine, for sure – but I think it stays on the right side of the line.  Indeed, what really sets it apart for me is how sincere it all is – adding a warm glow to the film as you’d expect, but also taking its job very seriously and frequently the music ventures into more dramatic areas (the martial percussion littered through various cues to emphasise the might of the White House, the more overtly dramatic moments like “Ellen Finds Out”).  It’s also nice how Howard passes the music through various different arrangements – sometimes with a solo piano, sometimes the strings, sometimes a lone oboe or trumpet.  At times full of whimsy, at others gently supportive of the film’s engaging fantasy, this is a score which deserves its reputation as one of the finest comedy scores of its era and the new release from La-La Land adds all the previously-unreleased music for a very nice package, complete with typically engaging liner notes from the ever-erudite Julie Kirgo.  The film is a deftly-executed, always-intelligent delight; and so is the score.

Rating: ****

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