WISHIN’ AND HOPIN’ – Matthew Llewellyn

Original Review by Alan RogersWishin and Hopin

Based on Wally Lamb’s bestselling novel Wishin’ and Hopin’, Colin Theys’ 2014 film follows Felix (Wyatt Ralff), a 10-year-old boy growing up in small-town Connecticut in the mid-1960s. It’s a nostalgic tale following Felix’s experiences in the lead up to the staging of his school’s Christmas Pageant (an older Felix (Chevy Chase) looks back at events at his Catholic school via narration). However, the arrival of a new substitute, Madame Frechette (played by Molly Ringwald), and a fiery Russian student (Siobhan Cohen) ensure that Felix’s lead up to Christmas will be fraught with problems. For the film’s score, director Theys’ returned to promising young composer Matthew Llewellyn; the director-composer duo had already worked together earlier in 2014 on the horror/thriller Deep In The Darkness. Llewellyn has come to prominence over the last couple of years with the release of two excellent horror scores by Screamworks Records – the aforementioned Deep In The Darkness and another horror effort, Dead Souls (2012, co-composed with Jonathan Bartz). With Wishin’ and Hopin’ Llewellyn moves away from horror and treats the listener to a wonderfully enthusiastic and rich orchestral score, full of warmth, drama and emotion, and peppered with seasonal references as well as some subtle hint of threat.

Llewellyn’s score is packed full of memorable themes and motifs. Although the composer intended to write themes only for the main characters (e.g., Felix, the school nuns), by the time the score was completed many other themes had been composed for additional characters (e.g., Madame Frechette, the Russian student Zhenya, etc.) Catchy themes and motifs are expertly combined as the story unfolds, with Llewellyn keeping each of the score’s components fresh through expert orchestration variations and modifications in musical tempo. Although labelled by many as a Christmas film, Wishin’ and Hopin’ is surprisingly sparse in terms of Christmas musical references. Rather than being magical or relentlessly heart-warming, Llewellyn focuses on emphasising the nostalgia of remembered memories; the friendships, the failures, the embarrassing moments, the all-consuming loves that are experienced when growing up – the film itself is rarely “schmaltzy” aiming instead for a sense of realism where things can and do go wrong (but are just as nostalgically remembered). The majority of the festive references are with the songs licensed for the film, with Llewellyn’s music fitting around them. As such, although the score fits well into any Christmas playlist, the music for Wishin’ and Hopin’ is equally at home in any all-year-round playlists.

The album opens with “Introducing The Class”, a wonderfully bright track that lays out some of the themes and motifs that appear throughout the score. First heard is a lilting nostalgic theme played on clarinet, this opening theme immediately frames what’s to come in the cozy haze often associated with fond childhood memories. Llewellyn then moves to a second theme played on solo flute and accompanied by jaunty strings. Then, the light-heartedness of the score is reinforced once more with a brief motif on strings and woodwinds. And all in the space of the first minute of the score! And so the rest of the score unfolds; numerous themes being stated and restated, rarely becoming tiring because of the composer’s skill at varying orchestrations and tempo to keep it all fresh (e.g., take a listen at how the recurring themes are varied in tracks such as “Madame Frechette”, “Lincoln Log Life”, “The Russian Menace” and “My Current Event”). Other particularly memorable themes include those heard in “The Nefarious Penguin” and “Madame Frechette”. Of particular note is the latter cue, “Madame Frechette”, which features a beautiful strings-led melody that has an almost English pastoral feel to it and adds a contrast to the gaiety of the score: it receives a particularly sad statement in “The Silent Treatment”.

An Eastern European-influenced waltz, heard in cues including “The New Student” and “The Russian Menace” (and possibly related to Zhenya, the new Russian pupil), adds a sense of the exotic to things, reinforcing perhaps the different values and ideas being introduced to the school. It may be no coincidence then that, towards the end of “The Russian Menace”, Llewellyn suddenly introduces an over-the-top romantic theme that would be appropriate for any 10-year-old’s sudden infatuation with “fresh blood” in school. The briefest appearance of this romantic moment, the interplay of the numerous themes, as well as the addition of various comedic motifs (including the sliding strings of “A Little Woozy”) show off the composer’s ability to incorporate these various elements into a cohesive whole that makes for a very rewarding listen. Although entirely in keeping with the lightness of the rest of the score, Llewellyn’s experience in writing for horror films does make an appearance in Wishin’ and Hopin’. The glissandi strings, low end strings and piano of “Heads Will Roll” adds a level of the dread not heard elsewhere in the score. After 30 minutes playing time, the final few cues bring the album to a close with a restatement of all the major thematic elements with an exuberance that has characterised the rest of the score. And the album’s closing track, “Annette and Felix”, ends the score with a sumptuous re-statement of the album’s opening themes.

Wishin’ and Hopin’ is a lovely score and evokes a feeling of nostalgia not just in the film but also in those who miss strong theme-based film scoring seldom heard today. On a personal level, one of the many strengths of this score is that it doesn’t sound too much of Christmas (“Bah, humbug!” I heard you cry). The composer has focused on telling the story of Felix and those around him and only occasionally reminds the listener of when the story is set: chimes and what sounds like celesta colour the music with the briefest suggestion of Christmas. As mentioned earlier, this all makes Wishin’ and Hopin’ an album for any occasion and it should appeal to anyone who enjoys thematic orchestral scoring. Llewellyn’s craftsmanship at creating memorable thematic scores across a number of musical genres bodes well for future projects from this up-and-coming composer and I look forward to hearing what he has to offer in the years to come. MovieScore Media’s Wishin’ and Hopin’ is heartily recommended (it took the top spot in my own Reel Music Awards, winning in the “Best Score – Comedy” category). Llewellyn’s score can be purchased from a variety of online digital stores and audio clips can be heard HERE.

Rating: ****/5

  1. Introducing The Class (1:42)
  2. The Nefarious Penguin (1:50)
  3. Madame Frechette (1:41)
  4. The Mortal Sin (1:51)
  5. The New Student (0:54)
  6. Top Secret Big Award (1:11)
  7. Lincoln Log Life (1:19)
  8. Heads Will Roll (1:04)
  9. The Russian Menace (2:19)
  10. Tableau Vivant (2:11)
  11. Openly Defiant (1:20)
  12. My Current Event (2:09)
  13. Revealing The Cast (1:19)
  14. She Like Likes You (2:17)
  15. The Silent Treatment (2:37)
  16. A Little Woozy (1:14)
  17. Backstage Blunder (1:14)
  18. Lily of The Valley (1:32)
  19. A Wonderful Disaster (1:34)
  20. Annette and Felix (1:47)

Running Time: 33:13

MovieScore Media MMS-14042 (2014)


  1. I too found this score to be very enjoyable. You could in fact ignore the mention of the Xmas theme and no one would know. At some point I would like to see the film.

    • Thanks for the comment Tom. Personally, I like the lack of Xmas reference. Also, I am not a fan of HOME ALONE so have not heard much of Williams’ score, so have no connection between that and this.

      • I didn’t explain myself very well at all. I too found the absence of Xmas music fine too. This score could have been released at any time of the year. I’m also not a fan of “Home Alone” either so in the case of this score we’re on the same page. To date I prefer “Deep in the Darkness” over “Home Alone.” I’ve yet to hear “Dark Souls” and am looking forward to hearing it. “Deep in the Darkness” had an unusual sound with the absence of the woodwinds.

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