Wholesome singer Debby Boone’s rendition of the syrupy ballad “You Light Up My Life” was such a monster radio hit in 1977—and has remained such a staple of adult-contemporary radio—that Boone’s recording long ago eclipsed the original source of the song. Composed by Joe Brooks and sung by Kasey Cisyk, the tune first reached audiences as part of You Light Up My Life, a gentle romantic drama that Brooks wrote, produced, and directed. In the movie, Cisyk provides the singing voice for leading lady Didi Conn. (Boone re-recorded the song, for an LP of her own, after the film was completed.) Manipulative and mawkish, Brooks’ movie wants desperately to be the touching story of an underdog heroine surmounting incredible odds in her search for self-realization. But thanks to Brooks’ incompetence as a storyteller, and to Conn’s lack of star power, You Light Up My Life feels like a second-rate afterschool special.
Set in Los Angeles, the story tracks the adventures of Laurie Robinson (Conn), a background singer and occasional TV actress. Growing up as the daughter of grade-Z comic Sy Robinson (Joe Silver), Laurie was groomed to be a comedienne, though music is her first love. For this particular story to work, circumstances must keep Laurie separate from music. Instead, Brooks depicts her as working professionally on music every single day. In fact, the filmmaker contrives a big scene during which Laurie happens into a recording session, prompting the producer of the session to record Laurie singing her song, “You Light Up My Life,” with a full orchestra. This is an underdog? Brooks also fails in depicting Laurie as a girl who’s unlucky in love. Early in the movie, she gets picked up in a bar and taken home by a handsome man; the next morning, she admits to her new lover that she’s engaged to someone else. This is Miss Lonelyhearts? One wonders whether Brooks wrote himself into such ridiculous corners because he was retrofitting a story to accompany his big song, or because he simply kept every one of his ideas without questioning whether those ideas meshed.
In any event, the film’s vibe is strange—since the heroine is shown to have a caring father, enormous talent, a hot love life, a relatively successful career, and supportive friends, she doesn’t need anyone to light up her life. In screenwriting terms, therefore, Brooks’ project is a notion that never evolves into an actual story. Conn, so endearing a year later in the megahit musical Grease (1978), wears out her welcome quickly, because she’s so bland and mousy that her performance becomes monotonous. (Costars Silver and Melanie Mayron add humanity to their roles, but they’re hamstrung by the vapidity of Brooks’ script.) You Light Up My Life is too kind-hearted and slick to actively hate, but in many ways, the picture is a case study of what not to do when constructing cinematic narratives.
You Light Up My Life: FUNKY