“Modern Love” in Movies

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David Bowie’s “Modern Love” is a bright, peppy song about that has enough repetitive parts that anyone can sing along to the backing vocals, even if they aren’t sure what the song is actually about.

Two articles have two different takes:

“The bright communal joy of ‘Modern Love’ masks a spiritually empty view of life, in which work is the last religion standing. As such, it was a song made for its times.”

Pushing Ahead of the Dame

Then there’s this:

“‘Modern Love’ is about the struggle to find solace in love and religion. David was never one to openly admit too much about his songs, but the title is a phrase occasionally used in gay circles about homosexual love. His spoken opening line, ‘I know when to go out, and when to stay in,’ indicating that he knows when it’s acceptable to admit that I’m bisexual or gay or not because later he sings, ‘never gonna fall for Modern Love.’”

Jon Kutner

Is it a song about work? Or about a certain kind of love? What do you think?

The video is a straight concert video. As Pushing Ahead of the Dame notes: “It was a rock video as tour commercial—don’t miss the giant inflated crescent moon! the horn section wearing pith helmets! Coming to your town next month!”

The song is fun for Karaoke and shines in movies. I’m surprised it hasn’t been used more. Here are four movies improved by “Modern Love”

The Way He Looks

In this sweet film about Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo), a teenager who is blind, who finds his world upended when Gabriel (Fabio Audi) shows up in his life.

At one point, Leonardo attends a party where “Modern Love” is playing in the background.

Read the review.


James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) has his summer all planned out: college graduation then Europe with his friends. Alas, the plans fall through and he ends up working at a broken-down amusement park running the carnie games.

Early on, as “Modern Love” plays, he’s doing a bad job calling the Derby Race when Bill Hader gives him advice: “Take it to a 10.” Kristen Wiig does her scene stealing thing in the background.

Read the review.

Frances Ha

In Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha (my top movie of 2013) Greta Gerwig is adrift in her 20s. She would be irritating, if she wasn’t so darn likable. And also, it helps that she’s a character on screen, not your actual friend.

“Modern Love” furthers our love of her character, as she leaps and dances as she runs through the streets of Manhattan on the way to her new apartment in Chinatown. (Her roomates are the very cute Lev (Adam Driver) and Benji (Michael Zegan)

Read the review.

Sleeping With Other People

Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie are a couple who have pledged to be friends and only friends. They do their best in scene after scene, but it becomes apparent to everyone around them that this cannot continue.

“Modern Love” appears when the two attend the birthday party of a friend’s child. They have ingested a specific substance that guarantees they will have a little remove from a teeming horde of kids. When the party seems to be going south, Alison Brie steps in to teach the kids a dance. Movie magic: the kids pick up the dance from the first beat. When she loses focus, Sudeikis steps in with free dancing, while other characters make the point that this platonic thing cannot last much longer. It’s a joyous scene from start to finish.

Read the review.


  • Have you seen all of these films? Which one do you think best uses the strengths of the song?
  • What scene in a film would be improved with “Modern Love” added to it?

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