Movie Review: The Swing Kids

The Swing Kids is a period piece set between 1939-1940 exploring a particular sub-culture that emerged in Nazi Germany. Teens frustrated with the claustrophobic and sclerotic structure of their day, rebelled by listening and dancing to American Swing. Their protest is captured in their mantra: Hey! It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Do wah, do wah, do wah, do wah, do wah.

The tragedy of the film, is that of course it does not end well. The Second World War does start, and the Nazi’s really do kill six million Jews, and the Russians really do occupy Poland for 45 years. The protest these children are engaged in is a silly expression of youthful rebellion. Nothing is affected. Nothing changed because some kids in Berlin and Hamburg listened to Benny Goodman.

The film at no point suggests that these dancing kids actually were able to do anything of any substance. What it explores is their reactions as their bubble world collapses. How do they react to the Nazi regimes attempts to squeeze out this tiny bit of non-conformity. Some refuse to live on or play the game, killing themselves. Some join the Nazis. And some when confronted with the choice of playing on or fighting choose to fight.

And somehow that last little bit of rebellion at the end of the film is the most tragic: Long past the point when anyone could have listened to their rebellion, the swing kids rebelled. And the futility of that gesture is captured by the Gestapo agent played by Kenneth Branaugh: So much passion wasted.

The story of the Swing Kids is really a story of how bored rich children wanted to rebel and how their pointless rebellion became a political protest as the choice between compromise and death became apparent.

As a film, it’s the music that steals the show. The music is so great, and the characters so obviously in love with it, that you can’t help but keep tapping your feet. In fact, the music is almost too great. The film at times becoming a music video for swing.

From the actors Kenneth Branaugh steals the show. The lead, Robert Sean Leonard, had his moments, but he did not carry himself like a German. Which is the same problem with the other leads, who at no point convinced me that they were Germans. The supporting cast and the extras did a great job convincing me that they were Germans.

Noah Wyle also has a bit role in the film.

The directing is well paced. The cinematography decent.

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