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Apr 23, 2021

'A Week Away': Father Vince Considers Musicals and How This One Explores the Interior Life

A big fan of movies and TV adapted from other media, our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a USC film-school grad, also likes to check out original stories. Here, he looks at Netflix's musical A Week Away, available now.

Where did you watch A Week Away?

My laptop, first thing in the morning, before the sounds of the city could distract me. Streaming changed the way I consume media, for sure. A Nespresso capsule shot from “Café Kuna” has me alert and ready to work, something I couldn’t do in a theater, where the earliest show doesn’t start before 11a.m.

And to be honest, I prefer watching musicals in the comfort of the rectory. I’m self-conscious if I end up singing along with the melodies in a crowded theater.

Is A Week Away an original story?

It’s not original in terms of a teen musical, of which many already exist. I don’t watch too many musicals, but I realized this film ironically broke new ground, in that the playlist was almost entirely covers of songs the filmmakers acquired rights to. This made for more true and organic storytelling because, as in real life, teenagers would only be tinkering on one or two of their own songs, if that.

I know from teaching at a Catholic high school that even the most enthusiastic theater students are performing existing plays and listening to professional songs looming in the zeitgeist. Original songwriting seems to come later in life. So the musical was original in intentionally being unoriginal in choosing to cover songs, if that makes sense.

How does it compare to the other musicals?

With this film, I think I finally cracked the spiritual nut of why characters would break out in song. Firstly, I always preferred musicals where there’s a believable impetus for singing (and dancing) and that the musical numbers not arise arbitrarily.

I noticed this with Bjork’s character in Dancer in the Dark. The songs play in her head to pass the time as she toils away in her mundane job. So, songs fill the transition where we presume the character thinks, contemplates and maybe even prays before making a life decision.

Depicting the interior life and more specifically when characters consciously attend to the interior life is extremely hard for a director to exteriorize. Song and dance provide the entertaining conceit for that to happen.

Watching films for my upcoming 1950s Based On blog reminded me of this. In Lili, the title character (played by Leslie Caron) dances in sequences where she discerns between striking out on her own or sharing a life with puppeteer, Paul (Mel Ferrer).

What does it say about a teen losing a parent and suffering in general?

At the film’s outset, we learn Will (Kevin Quinn) lost his parents. This manifests itself in him committing petty crime. The consequences of his loss render themselves on his exterior. What he hasn’t given its due consideration is the internal life.

The music camp functions more like a spiritual boot camp, or to put more formalized Catholic language to it, a novitiate, of a kind. Songs help him through the grieving process, and we presume as the viewer, each song is really a visible unveiling of the interior process.

So, prayer and discernment should accompany any major life decision or tragic event we cope with.

Click here to get a behind-the-scenes look at the film, by our writer Josh M. Shepherd; and here to see what FTP's own Kate O'Hare thought of it.

You can watch A Week Away on Netflix; the soundtrack is available at Amazon.com.

 

Image: Netflix

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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