Director: Bruce Paltrow
Cast: Huey Lewis, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Giamatti
Synopsis: A professional karaoke hustler reconnects with his daughter and a bored suburban businessman turns outlaw karaoke singer, among other plotlines.
Every now and then you watch a movie with nothing more than mediocre expectations and are pleasantly surprised to discover that you have stumbled upon a gem. Watching this movie is one of those all too rare occasions.
Duets is an ensemble piece that steps outside of the Hollywood formula by featuring no readily identifiable leading character and no romance to speak of. This is a good thing. This is a very good thing. This is the kind of movie that major Hollywood studios should be taking notice of and encouraging instead of concentrating so much on risk factors and audience demographics (i.e. catering to the lowest denominator). Perhaps, one day, they will realise that there is an audience out there for intelligent, well-written pieces of work like this — but only if it gets longer than a one week screening at the local multiplex if it’s lucky (i.e. if it features at least one name — such as Gwyneth Paltrow).
Briefly, the story is about a diverse group of characters, most of whom are involved in competitive karaoke singing, and their various escapades as they journey to Omaha to take part in a $5,000 competition. The characters include Huey Lewis and Gwyneth Paltrow as estranged father and daughter, Paul Giamatti and Andre Braugher as a salesman who is rebelling after helping to make a species of turtle extinct by turning their breeding ground into a water slide (love that) and a criminal on the run respectively, and Maria Bello as a woman who performs sexual favours at the drop of a hat in order to get what she wants, and Scott Speedman as a jilted taxi driver who hooks up with her.
Bello has one of the funniest lines in a movie that is sprinkled with them when, after having unsuccessfully attempted to ‘pleasure’ Speedman’s character tells him that he reminded her of a ‘nation in mourning’. The script is consistently inventive, even the minor characters, such as Speedman’s former school teacher, are given some memorable lines; and the performances are terrific throughout — even singer Huey Lewis delivers a creditable performance in a role that could have proved an embarrassment if not handled correctly. And unlike many ensemble movies this one manages the constant switch from one strand to the next without appearing forced, or distracting the viewer; it also manages to deliver a satisfyingly complete story despite the fact that some of the major characters have no interaction with one another.
(Reviewed 28th May 2003)