Chris Richmond’s review published on Letterboxd:
Of course people talk about the title track more often, but I think (or maybe hope) the epitome of this film and the true purpose of it, lies here, in the overlooked (perhaps due to its repetitive lyrical refrain) "Make 'Em Laugh," specifically the part from about 2:50 on in the linked video.
There's the incredible stage presence by the astonishingly talented Donald O'Connor, there's the wonderful set design which makes the floor look like an abstract, potentially-infinite plane to be experimented with, and there's the logistical genius of having Cosmo approach hard surfaces from every conceivable angle and method to be met with resistance, until he finally manages to literally "break through" a wall and (hopefully) get that coveted laugh out of even the most reluctant audience member.
The most overlooked aspect of this song, this scene, and this movie, is the desperate, pleading, harried delivery towards the end, when the choreography has Cosmo literally spinning in circles in his attempts to turn a frown upside down.
He knows the world and life aren't fair. He knows it better than anyone. Who better than he, the equally talented but nowhere-near-equally rewarded, would know how it feels to work hard and do right and get nowhere near what you put in? Every day he goes to work with a former partner he literally played second fiddle to (nice touch there, guys), fixing his problems anyway, even when that means getting friendzoned by his crush and watching her reach the same stardom alongside his supposed "best friend."
The film never really addresses Cosmo's plight directly, because they know that's not what you're here for. You want a smile. You want a happy ending.
And they know none of this (save the commentary and the level of skill on display) is new or original. The whole movie winks at this, from the repeated "You've seen one, you've seen them all" callback to the lyrics, music, and visual presentation consistently in the vein of "The Hook" or "Four Chords."
The set and costume designs effect this masterfully, with patterns and compositions that consistently refer to generalized placement and cohesion, rather than specific choices. Grids, leading lines, and pleasing final destinations within the frame indicate that the visual aspect is as fill-in-the-blank and we-know-what-you-like-derived as the cliche stories, hokey unreality performance, and song lyrics. Even hair curls and ear shapes are taken into account for their framing and pattern congruence.
These songs, dances, performances, and visual displays are unbelievable. This is one of the greatest exhibits of raw creative talent in the history of art, much less film.
The way O'Connor and Kelly in particular can move with such combined rapidity and elegance is literally a pleasure to watch.
I do wish we had more of the sharp humor that represents the script's best moments ("Lina, you've never looked lovelier;" "Hey Joe, get me a tarantula"), but the script is nonetheless generally applause-worthy in its pacing and the general wit of the dialogue.
This also works very well as a historical meta-document of the sound transition and (less directly) color transitions in Hollywood, as well as the general conveyance of how studios work and who actually gets what.
Quick shoutout to Millard Mitchell, who's absolutely perfect as R.F., the studio head.
As much as Singin' in the Rain is aware and communicative about its shortcomings, they're still there. After the out-of-place Broadway sequence (impressive though it is), R.F. expresses his uncertainty about its fitting, hanging the lampshade on the film's comparative flaw.
In the same way, characters and songs commenting on how trite the plot is or how the lyrics don't really matter still leaves us with a cliche, empty plot that opts to take an opaque view of the actual unfairness outside of our two leads' eventual success or the reasons behind that actuality.
"Just sing a song and dance and you'll feel OK" is a pretty good message, but it's a hell of a lot easier to sing and dance when you're a rich, beloved celebrity whose biggest problem is a girl he barely knows is slow-playing his ass.
Still, what a glorious feeling indeed.