No One Is Too Cool for Phil Collins’ ‘Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)’

‘The Fall Guy’ uses the Collins power ballad in a way that starts off as a joke. But the film soon takes the song’s heartbreak seriously — a perfect metaphor for how all of us eventually come around to realizing how great it is
No One Is Too Cool for Phil Collins’ ‘Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)’

Everybody has a go-to karaoke song. About midway through The Fall Guy, Jody (Emily Blunt), the first-time feature director making the sci-fi epic Metalstorm, has a tune in mind she’s excited to sing. First, though, let me give you some backstory: She and stuntman Colt (Ryan Gosling) had been an item about 18 months ago, but things fizzled out. (Long story short: He got injured on the job, she tried to be there for him, he got really depressed and self-loathing and turned his back on her.) But now they’re working together on Metalstorm, the friction between them has started to fade away and the old feelings are flooding back. Maybe they’re gonna get back together? Jody sure hopes so.

Colt was supposed to meet Jody at a bar as part of a production crew hangout, but he got unexpectedly delayed thanks to a real-life epic chase/fight sequence. As a result, poor Jody thinks Colt is once again blowing her off, which sends her into a shame spiral. Just then, her name is called — she’s next up to sing. But she doesn’t feel like doing the song she had initially planned — she’s too crushed. So she impulsively picks another song that’s calling to her in the moment.

Blunt recently revealed that there were a few different tunes she belted out as possible options during that scene, “but we settled on Phil because why wouldn’t you?"

She means Phil Collins — specifically, “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now),” his No. 1 hit from 1984. Blunt/Jody sings the hell out of it, her passion and anguish mixing beautifully with Collins’ pained vocals that play on the soundtrack. Simultaneously, Colt is engaged in an high-octane punch-up, the action spectacle cross-cut with Jody’s titanic sorrow. Why wouldn’t you pick a monumental power ballad for that moment? Why wouldn’t you put on some Phil Collins?

One of the 1980s’ most successful musicians, Collins became a superstar singing about his bad luck with love. He’s been married and divorced three times, and he poured that pain into mainstream pop songs that struck a chord with millions. Critics never took Collins, now 73, all that seriously, but between his solo career and his 1980s and 1990s work with his longtime bandmates in Genesis, he dominated the Top 40. He was a cheesy dude, but like most things from the ‘80s, what was cheesy-bad back then is now viewed as cheesy-awesome. And give the guy this: “Against All Odds” has now been used well in two movies.

In the late 1970s, Genesis was on hiatus, its members taking a break to do solo projects. Collins, who had started out as the group’s drummer before becoming its lead singer after the exit of frontman Peter Gabriel, was facing the dissolution of his first marriage, to Andrea Bertorelli. As he put it later, “I had a wife, two children, two dogs, and the next day I didn’t have anything.” The heartache hit him hard, and he turned the misery into the lead track on his first solo disc. “The lyrics you hear for ‘In the Air Tonight,’ I just sing,” Collins explained. “I opened my mouth and they came out. I never wrote anything down.”

Released in early 1981, Collins’ first solo album, Face Value, was a massive hit in the U.S. and the U.K., with “In the Air Tonight” and “I Missed Again” charting on both sides of the pond. Collins had demoed other songs during that period that would end up on future projects, like “Misunderstanding,” which landed on Genesis’ 1980 album Duke. Another song was something Collins had never bothered finishing. He didn’t think much of it — maybe it would make a good B-side at some point? Whatever the reason, “Against All Odds” — which, in an earlier form, had been called “How Can You Just Sit There?” — sat uncompleted, although Collins had already come up with lyrics:

How can you just walk away from me
While all I can do is watch you leave?

“Against All Odds” also didn’t make the cut for Collins’ follow-up, Hello, I Must Be Going!, whose biggest smash was a cover of “You Can’t Hurry Love,” first done by the Supremes. Collins had always loved R&B and soul, working with Earth, Wind & Fire’s horn section on his solo recordings. (In 1984, he produced EWF singer Philip Bailey’s solo album Chinese Wall, collaborating with him on the smash duet “Easy Lover.”) But that passion often resulted in relatively lightweight approximations of soul, another reason Collins was dismissed by critics. Still, since both his solo discs and Genesis’ 1980s records were selling, Collins was in-demand. That was when director Taylor Hackford approached him about contributing a song to his 1984 film Against All Odds

A remake of Out of the Past, which had starred Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas, Against All Odds cast Jeff Bridges as an over-the-hill football player who, desperate for money, agrees to track down a buddy’s wayward girlfriend (Rachel Ward), falling in love with her in the process. It was a steamy, noir-ish thriller, and Hackford wondered if Collins had something that might play well over the end credits. The problem was that Genesis was touring at that point.

“I said, ‘I can’t write on the road, but I can send you something,’” Collins recalled in 2021, later adding, “I didn’t think enough of it to put it on the album … but he loved it.” 

“Against All Odds” perfectly underscores Against All Odds’ finale, in which Bridges and Ward must accept that they won’t be together, the film ending with Ward staring sadly at him, eventually turning into a freeze frame as Collins sings about a love that is doomed to failure. 

How can I just let you walk away 
Just let you leave without a trace
When I stand here taking every breath with you? 
You’re the only one who really knew me at all

How can you just walk away from me
When all I can do is watch you leave?
‘Cause we’ve shared the laughter and the pain
And even shared the tears
You’re the only one who really knew me at all

So take a look at me now
Well, there’s just an empty space
And there’s nothin’ left here to remind me
Just the memory of your face
Ooh, take a look at me now
Well, there’s just an empty space
And you comin’ back to me is against the odds
And that’s what I’ve got to face

Drawing from the anger and sorrow he was feeling over his then-imminent divorce, Collins is accusatory one moment, pleading the next. He’s acquiescing to his fate, yet refusing to give in. He was singing about himself, but in Against All Odds, he was expressing the unspoken sentiments passing between the two characters, their lives destroyed because of circumstance and bad luck. 

The movie got decent reviews when it opened in March 1984, but was not a huge hit. By comparison, “Against All Odds” was massive — it was all over radio, becoming Collins’ first No. 1 single. It was also responsible for his first Grammy win, for Best Pop Male Vocal Performance. (It was also nominated for Song of the Year, losing out to “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”) “Against All Odds” even got an Oscar nod for Best Original Song — Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” from The Woman in Red took home the prize — but Collins wasn’t asked to perform on the show. Instead, Ann Reinking and Gary Chryst reinterpreted “Against All Odds” as a choreographed dance number. (Amusingly enough, Bridges himself introduced the segment.) Collins, who was at the show, didn’t hold back when asked his thoughts about the artsy performance. “It was awful,” he told Rolling Stone. 

It was just about the only thing that didn’t go right for Collins during that time. He married his second wife, Jill Tavelman, in 1984, and a month before the Oscars, he released No Jacket Required, which would win three Grammys, including Album of the Year. Collins was becoming so huge that there started being questions about whether he had time for Genesis anymore. “I feel happier with what we’re doing now, because I feel it’s closer to me,” he said in that Rolling Stone profile about the band possibly breaking up. “I won’t be the one (to leave).” But later in the same piece, he admitted, “Poor old Genesis does get in the way sometimes. I still won’t leave the group, but I imagine it will end by mutual consent.” Instead, Genesis returned for 1986’s Invisible Touch, a very Collins-sounding pop record that went sextuple-platinum in the States and launched five Top 10 singles, including the title track, which went to No. 1. 

Even better, Collins’ commercial success was happening at the same time he was enjoying his marriage to Tavelman. “The key is communicating,” he told Playboy. “So many times in a relationship, one person is doing something or saying something he or she doesn’t really mean and the other person is reacting to that. It is being able to say, ‘I didn’t mean that,’ having the guts to say, ‘I was wrong.’”

Collins’ chart reign continued with 1989’s ...But Seriously, his stab at more socially-conscious lyrics, which featured “Another Day in Paradise,” his seventh and final No. 1 as a solo artist. (The year before, he’d had two others, “A Groovy Kind of Love” and “Two Hearts,” which hit the top spot courtesy of the soundtrack to Buster, the bittersweet comedy he’d starred in.) And as the 1990s started up, Genesis got back together for We Can’t Dance, another multi-platinum affair. 

Throughout his superstar period, Collins flaunted a normcore aesthetic before such a thing had a name. Badly balding, he wasn’t a conventional sex symbol, so he leaned heavily on his ingratiating, self-deprecating demeanor. Roundly considered one of rock’s nice guys, he had no edge to him, but that’s what made him so inviting to the easy-listening crowd. Playboy asked him about groupies. “In Britain, my female fans are probably older, middle-aged housewives,” he replied, later adding, “(W)hen they have those polls about the most attractive men, somehow good old Woody Allen always comes out on top. That saves the day for me. He’s more consistently up there than someone like Tom Selleck or Don Johnson, who are the traditional good-looking chaps. He beats them because of personality. His sense of humor is far more important than anything else. I probably tend to do better than others because of my personality, rather than my intense good looks.”

But as the 1990s went along, his position at the top started to be shakier. Younger stars like Mariah Carey and Usher soon occupied the pop space he once ruled. (Fittingly, both of those artists covered his songs.) And, then, his personal life faced a new (but familiar) crisis: In the summer of 1994, Collins sought to divorce Tavelman, making a public statement in which he claimed, “I am not in love with my partner anymore.” At the time, the tabloids had a field day reporting that he had ended their marriage by fax, which Collins always insisted was a misunderstanding of what had gone down. “I was in Frankfurt and sent her a fax because the phone kept going down,” he said. “I was arranging time to see the kids and referenced the fact that (the marriage) was over, but it was translated as me finishing our relationship by fax.”

He once again responded to his romantic woes through his work, releasing 1993’s Both Sides, which in 2016 he called “my favorite album, from a songwriting and creative perspective. It was very much a solo album. I played everything, the songs just streamed out of me, and as a writer that’s the kind of thing that you dream of. It was the second divorce! Personal relationships at that time were tangled, is a better way of saying it, and it all came very spontaneously.” 

Both Sides topped the charts in the U.K., but Collins was no longer the global phenomenon he once was. No matter: He married his third wife, an heiress named Orianne Cevey, and moved with her to Switzerland. And while his subsequent solo records underperformed, he won an Oscar in 2000 for “You’ll Be in My Heart” from Tarzan. (It was his third Best Song nomination, following “Two Hearts” from Buster.) “You’ll Be in My Heart” had been inspired by his daughter, Emily in Paris star Lily Collins, when she was just a girl. “I’ve told my daughter that it’s her song,” Collins would say, “even though it’s an ape singing it to a baby boy.”

There’s always been a fascinating tension at the heart of Collins’ public persona. On the one hand, he has long radiated a dad-like corniness in his self-mocking music videos, constantly reminding us how uncool he is. (In that 1986 Playboy profile, it was mentioned that critics, derisively, thought of him as a dad. “Somehow, I’m called that a lot. I’m not sure how to take it,” Collins responded. “I wear baggy trousers and sometimes the waist is up to my chest. That must look like a dad. Also, I’m sensible, I suppose, like a dad.”) 

He had the ability to write such grief-stricken love songs, like “One More Night” and “In Too Deep,” and even if their sentiments were syrupy, they resonated. But on the other hand, he could conjure up such spiteful tunes, like “In the Air Tonight,” which (now that everyone knows it’s not, in fact, about Collins seeing someone drown) is a punishingly vindictive breakup song. For a man who chronicled love so obsessively, he had troubles making love last: He and Cevey ended their marriage in 2006, the divorce finalized on his birthday. “I didn’t want it at all,” he said a year later, adding. “You always remember these things … I’ll always remember my birthday.”

In 2016, Collins reflected on the regrets he had in his personal life. “I mean, when you’ve been married three times and you’ve got five kids, you don’t live with them, and you’ve been divorced three times, you start to wonder whether it’s you, you know?” he said. “It can’t always be someone else’s fault.” 

Eventually, he and Genesis reunited and toured, Collins adjusting to being an elder pop statesman. He and his music were often the punchline in pop culture. In American PsychoChristian Bale’s Patrick Batmen malevolently praises No Jacket Required, further indication of what a sick soul he is. (On one of his early stand-up records, Patton Oswalt also joked about the lameness of that Grammy-winning album.) But for another group of listeners, ones who have had their hearts ripped out by an ex, Collins was a comforting presence, a reminder that they weren’t alone in feeling so bad. 

One of those listeners was writer Starlee Kine, who interviewed Collins in 2007 for This American Life to tell him about how she and a boyfriend had gotten into his music, including “Against All Odds” — it had started off as ironic enjoyment, but it quickly became sincere. Then, the guy dumped her, leaving her with just “Against All Odds” to articulate how she was feeling. In the This American Life segment, she talked to Collins about writing sad songs and whether he ever got over the people he wrote them for. 

“There’s various people in your life that you never quite get over,” he replied. “I mean, that’s kind of the cliché. And then sometimes, with me, for example, because of children, you are morally obligated, and if you want to be with the kids as much as possible, you have to be in touch with this person that’s really hurt you. So it’s not like you can just walk away and leave without a trace because, in this instance, there’s a couple of little guys that are looking up to you, saying, ‘What am I going to do, Dad?’”

That pivotal moment from The Fall Guy works so well because it understands that inherent contradiction in the song — and in Collins himself. In my audience, there were laughs when Blunt started singing “Against All Odds,” a knee-jerk snarky reaction to an all-time cheesy ballad. The fact that it’s juxtaposed with Gosling’s fight scene only added to the scene’s humor. But then something happens once Blunt’s Jody starts really feeling the song’s lyrics — really immersing in the pain and misery of accepting that she and Colt aren’t going to make things work after all. Suddenly, there’s nothing ironic about “Against All Odds” because it becomes their song, expressing their shared wish that they could get back together. The Fall Guy doesn’t mock the song — the movie channels its power.

Or, as Fall Guy director David Leitch puts it, “(U)ltimately you’re going to remember this sequence because you’re rooting for Colt and Jody.”

Sooner or later, “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)” comes for us all. It’s so sappy and overblown — so ‘80s with those big strings and belted vocals. But it’s also so real and true and crushing if you’re residing in the same emotional space as Collins was when he wrote it. Like the singer, you just want to be seen.

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