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Flashback Five – Billy Joel Can’t Hold On to a Marriage, But He Can Sure Score a Movie



Sad news for Billy Joel fans: The Piano Man just ended his marriage to Katie Lee, the former Top Chef host to whom he’s been married for five years. Though Joel has been relatively unlucky in love, his luck has run a little smoother with his cinematic collaborations. So let’s take a look back at happier times with some of the more memorable uses of Joel’s songbook at the movies.

1. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008)
This singing scene marks the first (and probably last) time in movie history that “Just the Way You Are” would be used to accompany a drunk girl (Norah’s friend) falling in love with a turkey sandwich. It’s also fitting that a Joel song would be used in this quintessentially New York comedy, that, as you can probably tell from the title, focuses squarely on music.

2. 13 Going on 30 (2004)
Starting with the lyrics, “Slow down you crazy child, you’re ambitious for a juvenile,” Billy’s “Vienna” is the perfect, sad accompaniment for a climactic scene where Jennifer Garner’s prematurely aged kid returns to her room. Looking back at all her childhood toys, crying, and once again letting herself be a kid: No one could bring that emotion out like Billy Joel.

3. A League of Their Own (1992)
Joel’s cover of Duke Ellington’s classic “In a Sentimental Mood” plays in the background as the all female team travels from game to game, and Madonna’s Mae teaches an illiterate player how to read. Meanwhile, Rosie O’Donnell gets sentimental about being a girl playing baseball. The scene wouldn’t nearly work as well without Joel’s haunting cover.

4. Ruthless People (1986)
Bette Midler, as a victim of a botched kidnapping, has an emotional
turning point while watching a work out video set to Joel’s “Modern
Woman.” Having been an out-of-shape witch the whole movie, hearing
Joel’s propulsive beats goads her into being physically active, and
working out along with the video… Which leads her on the path to
ultimate redemption. The song was so nice, they played it twice, a
second time over the closing credits.

5. The Blues Brothers (1980)
After being released from prison, Jake and Elwood Blues travel the
country looking to reunite their band. In one memorable scene at a
Holiday Inn, they find most of the rhythm section playing to an empty
room, and attempt to convince them to rejoin the Blues Brothers. In the
background? A hilariously empty muzak version of Joel’s “Just the Way
You Are.”

Honorable Mentions:

1. The Ringer (2005): During an insane guessing game, Johnny
Knoxville and his mentally challenged friends accurately identify
Joel’s “Piano Man,” despite every note being sung way off key.

2. Happy Endings (2005) – In Don Roos’ ensemble drama, Maggie
Gyllenhaal’s rock singer does karaoke covers of “Honesty” and “Just The
Way You Are,” offering ironic counterpoints to the action in the movie.

3. Garfield (2004) – After being kicked out of his house,
Garfield sings “I’m In a New Dog… State of Mind.” Can you guess to
what tune it’s set?

4. Honeymoon in Vegas (1992) – Though they’re not technically
Joel songs, the singer did contribute covers of “Heartbreak Hotel” and
“All Shook Up” to the Elvis themed soundtrack.

5. Oliver & Company (1988) – “Why Should I Worry?” the opening number from the animated version of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, the first of two times to date Joel has been immortalized as a cat.

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