A Light Beneath Their Feet tells the story of a daughter’s attempt to pursue her goals and passions with school and life, as well as weighing the needs of her mother who is struggling with bipolar disorder. The score is by John Swihart who is no stranger to this type of genre. Swihart has built an amazing body of work ranging from cult hits like Napoleon Dynamite to mega sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother. Here the lightweight drama is pure and character development is focused, which results in a subtle score with just the right amount of emotional push.
A Light Beneath Their Feet is one of those “short and sweet” scores that is meant to compliment the performances and the story instead of accompany them. The score is built to create a certain tone and emotion in the most unobtrusive way, and this method is to allow the acting and dialogue to do the majority of the lifting. Even though I’m a fan of films with lots of score, I can see here that too much music could have soaked the story in melodrama. When you’re dealing with a character that has a recognizable mental illness such as bipolar disorder, you want to make sure that character is not defined by the illness. And one way to do that is to lighten the use of score to make the character feel a bit more real. Here that approach worked. The score’s atmospheric and tonal approach might be a turn off for some, and it’s true that this kind of scoring can be easily lost in the sound mix. However, I think the very restrained effort here is appropriate. I was able to read the emotional currents and feel the characters grow through the music, and it takes a little practice as a composer to be able to do that.
Swihart definitely has the experience necessary to be able to pull off such a restrained scoring approach that works as well as it does here. It’s a short score and a subtle one that isn’t meant to get in the way of the acting. I feel like a more precise theme could have helped give the score a better structure, but then again it could have veered into melodramatic territory. Swihart found a good balance of doing just enough so the music makes the characters and story feel as organic as possible.
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