Directed by Bruce Paltrow
Review by Matt Heffernan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I'm going to be perfectly honest. I have this thing for Gwyneth Paltrow that can cause my opinions of her films to be skewed. It all started with Emma, and since then, I have been a hopeless fan. She has usually shown good taste in choosing projects, taking films that may not be commercial, but are always interesting. Now her father, television producer and director Bruce Paltrow, has directed his first theatrical feature since 1982's A Little Sex (which was made by MTM TV studios, anyway). Unlike her mother, Blythe Danner, Bruce is primarily known as Gwyneth's dad. So, why not get your movie-star daughter to star in your project? That seems to be the entire motivation behind Duets.
The film follows three pairs of people. First there is Ricky Dean (Huey Lewis), a singer who travels around hustling karaoke contests, who gets news of his old girlfriend's death. At the funeral, he meets his estranged daughter, Liv (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is sent to follow him on "tour" by her grandmother (Angie Dickinson -- yes, she's playing a grown woman's grandma). Ricky's looking to get to the national karaoke finals in Omaha, where the purse is $5000.
The pastime of singing to canned music affects other lives as well. Todd (Paul Giamatti), a salesman who can no longer take life in airport hotels, sets off in a rented Lincoln after karaoke makes him feel alive. Along for the ride is Reggie (Andre Braugher), an ex-con with a great, soulful voice. Then there's the cute couple, played by Maria Bello (as a singer who does prostitution on the side) and Scott Speedman (as the non-singing cab driver). And, wouldn't you know, they're all headed to Omaha.
As the ads indicate, Gwyneth and Huey get to do a duet of "Cruisin'", but I can guarantee that you won't care when it happens. Sure, some sentimentality is supposed to be behind it, but it is too artificial to bear. Gwyneth's role is pretty much a ditzy Vegas girl, which would seem like her role in Hard Eight, except that she doesn't do anything this time. You'd think that Daddy would have given her a better part, but this is an exceptionally democratic ensemble film.
And thank God for that. While Gwyneth and Huey's part is disposable, and little comes out of Bello and Speedman, the parts with Giamatti and Braugher almost make the film worth seeing. Even when John Byrum's screenplay (his first since 1984's The Razor's Edge) lets them down, these two make the most of their characters. If you edited everybody else out of the picture, you'd have a very entertaining short with thoughtful performances from the entire cast. Unfortunately, we see the long version, and although it is occasionally funny, it is entirely unmemorable.
If you simply must see movie stars sing, just buy the soundtrack and envision them in your head. Better yet, watch an old Hollywood musical like Singin' in the Rain for some real entertainment instead of patronizing the Paltrow Family Vanity Project.
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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan