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The plot and the actors are all very nice, but a movie trailer's impact often relies on its soundtrack. Let's explore the latest trailer tunes and see how well they're working.
This Week's Trailer: The full-length preview for Dear White People, the crackling satire about black students at an Ivy League college that roared through Sundance earlier this year. (It hits theaters on October 17.)
This Week's Tune: "Sleeping at Night," a jumpy track from the indie rock band Caught a Ghost.
How Literal Is It? It's a literal companion to the film in two ways. For one, the song is full of withering lyrics about "emotionless creatures" who move their mouths along with "meaningless speakers. "That's a little cryptic, but to me, it seems like the band is mocking people who mindlessly pay lip service to popular morals. Later on, the song goes after the soulless leaders of those empty-headed parrots, sneering that it must be hard for them to look in the mirror in the morning.
However, there's such a hot beat that you could hear the song four or five times without realizing how political it is. That's a spot-on choice for a movie as funny as Dear White People. Jokes and catchy choruses always make the medicine go down.
But also?!?! Tessa Thompson, who stars in the movie as a prominent campus activist, is ALSO in Caught a Ghost. And her partner in the band is a white dude! How perfect that a movie about the dense thicket of American race relations is tapping its co-star's multi-ethnic rock group for a soundtrack cut. It adds yet another complicated layer to the conversation. (Make what you want of the fact that Thompson doesn't sing on this particular track.)
How Emotional Is It? Satire isn't really about emotion, you know? Unless you count the rage underneath the humor, but that's what you're supposed to feel at the end. Right now, the point is to entice an educated audience with the promise of sophisticated wit, and to that end, "Sleeping at Night" has the appropriate college rock vibe.
Will We Associate It With This Movie? Absolutely! Even though the song was used in the TV series Suits, that show has generated less cultural cachet in four seasons than this movie has with just a few festival screenings. The fact that Thompson is part of both projects binds them even closer together.
Overall Trailer Tune Effectiveness: On the visceral level, "Sleeping at Night" gives the trailer a vibrant energy to accompany its spiky humor. On the intellectual level, it can delight anyone who discovers that the band and the film share a star. High marks all around.