It’s Time to Talk About Hollywood’s Obsession with Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door”

A scientific investigation into the cinematic dad rock tune that would not die.

We’ve all been there: Sitting bolt upright in bed, suddenly remembering a pop culture experience we had years ago—particularly a then-negligible detail which now seems entirely surreal—and suffering future sleepless nights after confirming the detail in the morning. It’s Time to Talk About is our way of bringing these issues to light in hopes that such conversations can become easier in the future. Sometimes it’s better to talk about it.


Like the French soldier who stumbled upon the Rosetta Stone one fateful day in Egypt, I made my discovery entirely by happenstance. Seeking a cure to the Pandemic Blues, I’ve been watching lighthearted comedies from my youth, and I recently noticed that 2002’s Mr. Deeds and 2004’s Along Came Polly both end with the song “Let My Love Open the Door” by Pete Townshend. I tweeted about the coincidence and got a handful of replies about other movies from the same era that use the song. And thus was a project born: to research every soundtrack appearance of this song, and to determine, once and for all, just what door Townshend’s love cinematically opens. Come with me, then, as I decode the mysterious reappearance of the dad rock tune that would not die.

BACKGROUND & METHODS:

For this investigation, I chose to ignore the song’s use in episodes of television. If you’re interested, though, it pops up in The Goldbergs, Californication, Lethal Weapon, and The Newsroom (there’s also a good chunk of an episode of The Newsroom dedicated to The Who’s “You Better You Bet.” Another very good song, but, it must be said, not a very good show). “Let My Love Open The Door” is from Pete Townshend’s 1980 album Empty Glass. It hit number nine on the American charts that year. The “E. Cola Mix,” which is a little slower, was released in 1996. And oh boy, did Hollywood go for it.

FINDINGS:

Look Who’s Talking (1989)

“Let My Love Open The Door” plays over the credits of this goofy, feel-good flick, a fitting choice. Send the audience home with a smile! Did the makers of Look Who’s Talking realize, I wonder, what they had set in motion when they made this choice? Could they have known that this simple decision would be copied again and again in the years to come? For not just a baby but also a pattern was born when Look Who’s Talking premiered. A pattern that persists to this very day.

Jerry Maguire (1996) trailer

There’s no searchable database (that I know of) of songs that are used in movie trailers but not in the actual movie, but someone on Twitter mentioned this one. “LMLOTD” appears only briefly in this trailer, presumably to shore up the “romantic comedy” appeal, before we transition into “Secret Garden,” the Bruce Springsteen hit that wasn’t written for this soundtrack but gained most of its popularity due to being on this soundtrack. In fact, “Secret Garden” used to play on the radio with dialogue from Jerry Maguire included. It’s true, Renée Zellweger told me herself. Wait, what were we talking about? Oh right—generic use of a song about love in a movie about love. Welcome, audiences, to a genre you will recognize and feel safe in! (I love Jerry Maguire.)

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

The “E. Cola Mix” of “Let My Love Open the Door” is one of many songs to play in the background of this movie, set at a high school reunion. Personally, I’m more of a Romy and Michele fan, but Grosse Pointe Blank is solid, the song feels appropriately utilized (a new mix of an old song at a high school reunion…how apropos!), and the soundtrack was popular. It’s what launched the mix and, I suspect, what made moviemakers remember how they felt walking out of the theater after seeing Look Who’s Talking and think, “Well, let’s just do that.”

Mr. Deeds (2002)

Mr. Deeds is a silly but effective comedy starring Adam Sandler as a small-town pizzeria proprietor who unexpectedly inherits a media empire and then falls in love with Winona Ryder. “Let My Love Open the Door” plays over the final shots of the movie and takes us into the credits, because it’s a nice, recognizable song and this is a movie starring nice, recognizable actors.

Along Came Polly (2004)

Along Came Polly is a silly but effective comedy starring Ben Stiller as an uptight risk analyst who unexpectedly gets divorced and then falls in love with Jennifer Aniston. “Let My Love Open the Door” pays over the final shots of the movie and takes us into the credits, because it’s a nice, recognizable song and this is a movie starring nice, recognizable actors.

Jersey Girl (2004)

Jersey Girl is a somewhat melancholy comedy starring Ben Affleck as a publicist whose wife unexpectedly dies, leaving him to raise their daughter alone, and then he falls in love with Liv Tyler. Because this movie is more dramedy than comedy, it’s the “E. Cola Mix” that plays over the final shots and takes us into the credits.

Click (2007) trailer

According to a rock and roll fandom blog I read, because I am a very serious scientist, “Let My Love Open the Door” was in the trailer for this movie…but I am unable to find any evidence of such a trailer on YouTube. Interesting. Perhaps the song was just in the air so much in those days it Mandela Effected its way into the minds of moviegoers.

Dan in Real Life (2007)

We’ve reached full “Let My Love Open the Door” saturation here. The song was in the trailer, yes, because a white dad is feeling a feeling, but in the actual movie it’s not even a melancholy mix, it’s a straight-up in-universe cover. In a family talent show scene, Steve Carrell accompanies Dane Cook on acoustic guitar and there is an emotional resolve over the course of the song. I’m going to declare this the best possible use of “Let My Love Open the Door” in a movie. It’s a simple enough song that you can imagine two non-musicians choosing to perform it for others, and it has a simple enough message that the characters can project their own relationships onto it fairly well. But it’s also a sweet enough song that the moment isn’t maudlin or self-indulgent, and it’s not so cheery that anything feels forced. It’s perfect. It hits the nail on the head, and that nail should have been the final nail in the coffin of overusing this song. But alas…

Old Dogs (2009)

I’ve never seen Old Dogs. When I try to remember if I’ve even heard about it, I end up picturing the poster for Wild Hogs, probably because it rhymes. The internet tells me that Old Dogs and Wild Hogs were directed by the same person, so that’s something. How does “Let My Love Open the Door” fit into the narrative here? Don’t know and refuse to find out. 

How Do You Know (2010) trailer

According to Wikipedia, “Let My Love Open the Door” pops up in the trailer for this very bad movie. But all the trailers I found online used some other more recent bland pop song. I think what I’m learning here is really that the internet lies.

Red Dog (2011)

You’re never going to believe it, but “LMLOTD” pops up at the end of this movie and plays over a happily-ever-after montage that is both upbeat and nostalgic, taking us right to the moment the credits rolls. No, really.

Take Me Home Tonight (2011)

This movie is set in 1988 and named after an ’80s song that isn’t used in the actual movie, so it sort of exists outside the timeline and pattern we’re currently working with.

Hit and Run (2012)

A mediocre action-comedy with a bit of romance. Do I even need to say it? “Let My Love Open the Door” plays over the final two scenes and takes us into the credits. I’m losing my mind.

Stronger (2017)

OK, here’s a new one. Not a comedy at all. David Gordon Green’s drama about the true story of the Boston Marathon Bombing victim who helped identify the bombers is ultimately life-affirming, but I wouldn’t call it heartwarming. It’s very serious and in moments a little hard to watch. So instead of a montage, we get a retread of our Dan in Real Life moment: about halfway through the movie, Jake Gyllenhaal lies in bed with his girlfriend Tatiana Maslany and plucks out a verse and chorus of “Let My Love Open the Door” on acoustic guitar—less of a performance and more the messing around of a couple happily killing time. It’s a sweet moment, but the choice feels unspecific. Sure, this person probably liked this song, because everyone sort of likes this song, because it’s been in every other movie for the past twenty years.

Irreplaceable You (2018)

This cover by Rogue Wave is almost unrecognizable, so much so that watching the movie—about a married couple trying to navigate the wife’s imminent death from cancer—you might not notice it. Does this represent progress, innovation, evolution, or the fact that they didn’t have the budget for the original track? Instead, we get a sleepy, indie-fied version. It no longer makes me want to dance at a wedding the way Townshend’s version does, but at least it’s not playing over the credits.

THEORIES AND CONCLUSIONS:

So, it turns out I’m not the first person to notice this phenomenon. Writing for Glide magazine, Warren Miller eviscerated the trend, calling “LMLOTD” “trite and overexposed” in a post pithily titled “‘Let My Love Open the Door’ or How I Know When a Movie Is Nearly Over.” At the end of the article, Miller expresses his hope that the song’s overuse will come to an end, but theorizes that it probably won’t. He wrote it in 2007, on the heels of Dan in Real Life, and he was right. It’s not over at all.

The problem, as I see it, is not that the same song is used in a bunch of movies. Well-known needle drops are part of moviemaking now, for better or worse. But part of the problem is that this particular song, which I do think is very good, isn’t quite good enough to merit such frequent inclusion. It’s not one of our country’s strongest love ballads, I am sorry to say. There’s perhaps a case to be made that this B+ song is actually the appropriate choice for all these B+ movies, but what it actually all points to, I think, is a failure of imagination. 

There’s perhaps a case to be made that this B+ song is actually the appropriate choice for all these B+ movies, but what it actually all points to, I think, is a failure of imagination. 

The movies listed above, for the most part, aren’t terribly inventive. They’re familiar, they hit the beats they’re expected to, they aren’t trying to do anything new. And the attitude of the filmmakers—to not challenge their audience at all—is reflected in their choice of song: “Let My Love Open the Door” is unlikely to inspire any reaction besides “that’s a nice song.” Although now, of course, my reaction will always be, “Again!?

I don’t think it was Townshend’s intention, but in retrospect, it was almost unavoidable that this song would end up in movie after movie, because its lyrics broadly describe…like half of all movies. Yeah, letting love open you up to more love is like, what characters are about! I wish these movies could have aimed at something both more specific and more interesting than “Like, love, in general, man,” but I have to admit, if the shoe fits, play it.

I have to assume that it’s easy or cheap (or both) to get the rights to “LMLOTD.” It’s the only real explanation here. And if it pulls an It’s a Wonderful Life and becomes a beloved classic through ubiquity, I’ll be annoyed but not devastated. I would have preferred The Beach Boys’ “I Know There’s an Answer,” but I so rarely get my way when it comes to choosing the music in movies that came out fifteen years ago.

There’s a brilliant website called the Walk of Life Project that pairs Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life” with the closing of various classic movies, sometimes to hilariously incongruous results. The project’s stated (and probably ironic) mission is to prove that “Walk of Life” is “the perfect song to end any movie.” I’m not sure if my own project has disproved that theory, but I encourage you to spend a little time thinking about the utility of an over-credits song, and exploring the WOLP. It will, at the very least, give you a respite from “Let My Love Open the Door,” which is now surely stuck in your head. FL

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