on May 14, 2001
"Duets" stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Huey Lewis as daughter-and-father karaoke singers.
Go ahead and laugh. Why not? Everyone else does. There's something about karaoke that draws titters. Sure, it's increasingly popular, this singing along to backing tracks, with shows like "Say What! Karaoke" on MTV sending young wannabes into karaoke bars everywhere. But karaoke (Japanese for "empty orchestra"-I guess the singer is supposed to fill the void) is still perceived as something silly that people do when they've had a few too many.
So here's the surprise: "Duets" likes karaoke. In the movie, it's a metaphor for lost souls finding themselves, and, in their conquering a song, an audience, or a competition, filling some kind of spiritual void.
Paltrow, the Oscar-winning actress for "Shakespeare in Love," is the daughter of director Bruce Paltrow, and she comes off as exactly that: a good little girl, more giddy than we've seen her in a while; seeking a reconnection with her father (Lewis), a rock singer reduced to hustling bets at karaoke bars.
Everybody knows that Lewis can sing. But so can Gwyneth, with a shimmering, glistening voice, which she shows off on Jackie DeShannon's "Bette Davis Eyes" and in a duet with Lewis, on Smokey Robinson's "Cruisin'."
And so can Paul Giamatti, best known for his role as "Pig Vomit," the hated radio executive in Howard Stern's film, "Private Parts." A supposed karaoke virgin when he hits a bar, by chance, as he reels out of a dead-end routine as a traveling salesman, he nails Todd Rundgren's "Hello It's Me" and is hooked on singing. (Ah, Hollywood. Competing for a $5,000 prize, Lewis surprises Paltrow by calling her onto the stage, where they do an unreheased "Cruisin'" - perfectly, natch. And Giamatti, along with an ex-con hitchhiker played by Andre Braugher, whip up a stunning version of "Try a Little Tenderness," even though Braugher is on the lam and not exactly pleased to have been dragged onto a spotlit stage.)
Braugher actually doesn't sing; his voice is dubbed in. Neither does Scott Speedman, who plays a cab driver. But his pickup, Suzi (Maria Bello, from "Coyote Ugly") does, and acquits herself well on "Sweet Dreams" and "I Can't Make You Love Me."
Bruce Paltrow does toss in a couple of clinkers, but only briefly, and in the background. Curiously, he doesn't employ any Asian singers in any of the half-dozen or so bars in the movie. Karaoke was invented in Japan, became popular in various Asian cities, and has turned the stereotype of Asians as shy non-performers on its head. But you won't find any evidence of this evolution in "Duets."
Nor will you find much original. You've got yer hesitant parent and kid reunion; yer (black) con on the run hooking up with yer burned-out (white) guy making his own kind of escape. Then there's the cabbie who's just lost his girlfriend, and he just happens into the sexy Suzi, a small-town singer with stars in her eyes; she's itching to go to California. So call it three road movies squished into one, with the three pairs, such as they are, converging at a karaoke contest in Omaha.
See? You laughed again. But that's OK. "Duets" may be a bad movie, but it's the kind of bad that you can enjoy. As the New York Times' A.O. Scott wrote, "We could use more bad movies like this."
on May 8, 2001
I know this movie got some very bad reviews however, I really liked it a lot! Yes, maybe the acting was not the best but bottom line is it is a movie that has imagination to it. Imagine the same 'ole role of life from day to day & all the troubled we face along the way. Wouldn't you like to have some kind of "release?" Well, that is what the movie is about...releasing from the heart by singing at kareoke bars. If you do not have a deep appreciation for music & all the feeling behind it, you won't like this movie. If you do have that special appreciation for music, you will be able to relate and to put yourself in it. Music is about people & expressing themselves, just as Duets does. I really do suggest that you at least try watching this one. No, it may not become your personal favorite, but it is entertaining with the great tracks and seeing the performances in the movie. I am impressed with Gwyneth's vocal talent! I don't care what other's have said, I feel that she sings very well. Take time and check Duets out.....it is worth it!
on March 4, 2002
Director Bruce Paltrow assembled an impressive ensemble cast to deliver this story about a diverse group of people with many things in common-- more than they would probably ever realize or admit to, in fact. On the surface, the tie that binds is music; specifically that cultural phenomenon known as Karaoke, a world in which for three minutes or so, no matter who or what they are, the individual at stage center is a star. Underneath that particular aspect, however, the common thread runs much deeper. Because these are people who, in their own way, are all seeking to connect with something, even though they don't know what it is or even consciously know they're pursuing it. They're looking for their personal metaphor-- that one special thing, or someone, that will give meaning and purpose to their life. It's a road we all go down at one time or another, in one way or another, and it's that road that is explored by Paltrow in "Duets," an affecting film that illustrates how universally elusive the answers we're all seeking in life are, and for the most part because we simply don't know the questions in the first place.
Ricky Dean (Huey Lewis) is a singer/hustler on the Karaoke circuit; In Tulsa, on his way to a big competition in Omaha, he gets a call and detours through Las Vegas for the funeral of an old friend. While he's there, he meets up with someone with whom he has a special relationship, Liv (Gwyneth Paltrow), who decides she wants to join him on the road. Meanwhile, a salesman named Todd Woods (Paul Giamatti) suddenly realizes he's so burned out from being on the road that he doesn't even know what city he's in, making a pitch to a hotel conference room full of corporate types in Houston, thinking all the while he's actually in Orlando, Florida. When he finally gets home, his wife, Candy (Kiersten Warren), and his two kids are too self-absorbed to even say hello to him, so he goes out for a pack of cigarettes (even though he doesn't smoke), discovers Karaoke and makes a new friend, Reggie Kane (Andre Braugher). Then there's Billy (Scott Speedman), a young man who drives a cab (of which he is half owner), who due to a particular set of circumstances finds himself involved with one Suzi Loomis (Maria Bello), who is on her way to California, by way of the karaoke competition in Omaha. And, ultimately, Karaoke becomes the vehicle through which this eclectic bunch of individuals begin to discover just what it is they're looking for; and who among them ever would've thought it would be in Omaha, Nebraska?
Working from an intricate and insightful screenplay by John Byrum, Paltrow has crafted an engrossing comedy/drama that is entertaining and poignant. There's a lot going on in this film, but Paltrow sets a pace that keeps it moving right along, and uses transitions that effectively eliminate any confusion that could easily have resulted from having so many storylines unfolding at once. The characters are well drawn, and Paltrow establishes exactly who they are and where they fit in almost as soon as they are introduced, which enables the viewer to concentrate on the story without having to figure out who fits where and why. After all, this is not a mystery; and Paltrow uses the screen time of his characters wisely to develop the drama that is being played out in their respective lives, rather than by throwing in unnecessary twists and turns just to maintain interest. It works, because the story is interesting enough, without the aid of any superficial enhancements, and Paltrow does an excellent job of blending it all together to deliver a satisfying and emotionally involving film.
There are a number of outstanding and noteworthy performances in this film, but the most memorable is turned in by Paul Giamatti, who so successfully conveys the emptiness of this middle-aged man who has always played by the rules, and who now finds himself at a very real crossroads in his life. The fact that Todd has accrued 800,000 frequent flyer miles that he can't use, effectively puts his whole life into perspective; and Giamatti sells it with a portrayal that is affecting and incisive. And, as Reggie, the guy Todd takes up with on the road, Braugher hits just the right note, as well, and their scenes together provide some of the highlights of the film, as when they perform their duet of "Try A Little Tenderness"-- this is Karaoke at it's best.
Gwyneth Paltrow provides a few highlights here, as well; besides creating a very real, believable character in Liv, it's worth watching the film just to see her sing "Bette Davis Eyes." But there's also an exquisite gentleness in her nature she so ably expresses that makes her decidedly easy to watch, and there's an engaging duet she delivers with Huey Lewis on "Cruisin'" that's a real showstopper. It's quite interesting, in fact, to note just how well the actors in this film deliver their songs (and, yes, they all did their own singing). Other musical highlights include Braugher's "Free Bird" and Bello's rendition of "Sweet Dreams." This entire film, in fact, just may be the best thing that ever happened to Karaoke; it definitely raises the bar and gives it some mainstream credibility.
The supporting cast includes Angie Dickinson (Blair), Lochlyn Munro (Ronny), Amanda Kravat (Redhead), Erika von Tagen (Julie) and Marian Seldes (Harriet). Early in the film, a truck driver asks a hitchhiker-- a guy just out of prison-- "What were you in for?" The guy replies, "An error in judgment." And, in the final analysis, that's what "Duets" is really all about; the flaws, imperfections and "errors in judgment" that make up the music of life. It's about finding that right note and being able to share it with someone-- being able to perform a duet to the score of life.
on June 7, 2001
I remember reading the New York Times review of this movie when it came out, and basically what it said was that this movie is kind of a mess but it's fun anyway. That's right on the money in my view. This may not be the movie I'm going to recommend to all my friends, but the truth is I saw it in the theater and then waited eagerly for it to come out on video.
It's a lot of things in small measure. It's kind of sweet, kind of funny, kind of sad. Probably the biggest shock, if you don't know it to begin with, is that Gwyneth Paltrow can _really_ sing! By now you've heard "Cruisin'" on the radio and you know this, but it's still kind of amazing to see. You can sort of hear that that's really Maria Bello; you know Huey Lewis can sing; you figure Paul Giamatti can sing because they could always get a bland-looking guy from Broadway who can really sing, so why dub it; and Andre Braugher isn't really singing. But I sure wouldn't have figured Gwyneth Paltrow had that voice.
Anyway, though, this movie doesn't hold together perfectly, but it's really worth watching even so.