From the moment the Maderian workers arrived at the Honolulu harbor ukulele has gone through a lot. While today it is one of the most popular string instruments with thousands and thousands of newcomers choosing it as their outlet for creativity, the ukulele has not always been this famed. With a lot of up and downs, the last upsurge in popularity started in the 90s and was intensified in 2010s by media and movies. While manufacturers eagerness to innovate and produce cheap models plays a big part in uke staying relevant and interesting to mainstream audiences, nothing really makes it as desirable as its integration into the mainstream pop culture, specifically, film. That is why today I want to talk about some of the most interesting and famous moments of uke in a movie.
Yes, we all love ukulele. It is cheerful and cute. It brings happiness to sad days and energy to the dull ones but with a skillful choice of the set and context, there are ways to make the “happiest” of instruments sound melancholic and nostalgic. That is exactly what Derek Cianfrance did in his heart-wrenching Blue Valentine. The movie tells a story of love found and lost. In this scene, the main character played by Ryan Gosling serenades Michelle William’s character. The song is Connie Francis’s You Always Hurt the One You Love. With a perfect balance of rich tones and high voice of the actor the scene sort of foreshadows the storyline. The balancing act of the new love with the sad song that sort of warns the characters about the pains is what makes this one of the most memorable scenes in a movie involving a ukulele, of course.
50 First Dates
I might have started with quite a sad movie so I will try it fix it with a more upbeat movie – 50 First Dates. And while I am by no means the biggest fan of Adam Sandler, the movie and this specific scene perfectly encapsulate the mellow and sweet sounds of a ukulele. It does help that the movie is set in Hawaii, home of a ukulele. Sandler performs Forgetful Lucy to Barrymore’s character who has a memory issue and forgets everything in a day. The ukulele that is used in the scene is, presumably 6-string Kamaka.
This 2013 Spike Jonze movie was probably revered by a lot of hipsters. Her paints a sort of futuristic world Theodore played by Joaquin Phoenix purchases an operating system. Unlike your Alexa or Siri, the operating system is voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Apparently, Johansson charm is strong enough for a man to fall in love with it. While the movie taps into ideas of what it means to be a human and what genuine connection means, even if it is with an AI that is created to serve you, it also allows for the viewer to just enjoy the simple moments of pleasure. One of those moments expectedly features a ukulele. In this scene, Theorode and Samantha, the AI, have a duet to footage of Theo traveling.
Okay, relax, I am going to mention The Jerk. Probably anyone who has ever seen this 1979 movie, know what scene I am talking about. It is probably one of the most beloved and famous scenes that features ukulele and for a good reason. As Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters walk on a beach they perform Tonight You Belong To Me which became one of the most popular songs featuring a ukulele. While the movie in itself is mostly comedy with ridiculous plot moments this scene with help of this song brings a lot of emotions to the audience.
Some Like It Hot
There are probably very few movies from the 50s that are still as very known and loved as Some Like It Hot. I mean, when you have Billy Wilder as director, Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon as main characters, there is a very small room for failure. Joe and Jerry, who are fleeing the mob end up disguised as Josephine and Daphne in an all-woman band. The band, you guessed it, also has Marilyn Monroe’s character. What ensues is probably one of the best comedies of the time and probably one of the best comedies of all time. In this scene, the all-woman band performs Runnin’ Wild with Monroe playing on ukulele. The sound of the ukulele is pretty much inaudible but it still seems like a nice homage to the instrument.
The Purple Rose of Cairo
There is probably no better way to wrap up a list that encapsulated love of ukuleles and movies than The Purple Rose of Cairo. This 1980 masterpiece directed by Woody Allen tells a story of Cecilia, a New Jersey waitress during the Great Depression. When she loses her job, Cecilia who is an avid moviegoer enters the cinema to watch The Purple Rose of Cairo when suddenly Tom Baxter, one of the characters, walks out of the screen and ends up in the real world. While Allen masterfully depicts the relation between movies and reality and masterfully portrays the feelings of movie lovers, he also offers one of the best ukulele scenes in the movie history. In this scene, you see Cecilia, played by Mia Farrow along with Jeff Daniels who portrays Top Baxter perform Alabama Bound. It is also interesting that ukuleles were probably in their prime on the mainland during the Great Depression. As people were not able to buy the more expensive instruments such as guitars and pianos, the popularity of ukuleles quickly went up since it was one of the cheapest instrument to produce and went for just a couple of dollars (sometimes even free if you bought lessons along with it).
You know how people say that in certain movies an object can be so important it is basically a character. With movies like Day of Heaven it was the house that played a big part, while in movies like Blue Valentine it is the uke. And while uke is loved for the mellow, sweet sound that brings sunshine to the gloomiest of days there are so many ways this instrument can portray deep feelings of melancholy and sadness. In any case, this is just a few of plethora of movies that in one way or another feature this beautiful instrument. AND, if you got inspired to pick up one yourself we have a lot of blog posts that will help you choose the best ukulele for you as well as full reviews of dozens and dozens of ukuleles. Hope you enjoy!