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00634 - DUETS

The Family Movie Project: Part 1

MovieHype00634 – DUETS

I read about cities where everyone reads the same book in a given year, and then talks about it. I thought that would be a great idea for my family. I proposed it, and people were excited, but we haven’t been able to decide on the rules. (We’re still working on it.)

However, during the conversation a new idea came up: movies. We decided to draw months out of a hat, and each of us take two months, picking a movie for the others to see in that month.

The rules were simple: find a movie that they entire family could watch, and was readily available at a video store My sister Elby had January, and picked DUETS, which the Canada version of my family finally got around to last night.

DUETS is the story of six people, strangers to each other, having met up by fate or by chance, traveling in pairs to the Karaoke National Championships in Omaha Nebraska.

The first pair has Huey Lewis as a Karaoke hustler (is there such a thing?), and a daughter he’s never met (Gwyneth Paltrow). The second pair has Scott Speedman as a cuckolded taxi-cab driver, taking Maria Bello, who’s a part-time Karaoke champion and (I’m surmising) part-time hooker. The third (and by far the best) pair has two of Hyperion’s favorites: Paul Giamatti as a salesman who just can’t freaking take it anymore, matched up with Andre Braugher, an Ex-Con who’s not quite sure how to make it in the outside world.

You’ll notice I don’t mention the character names in the paragraph above. That’s because the reason to see DUETS is these actors. Really, the film is a showcase for them to act. I’m not a fan of Karaoke, although I have nothing against it, but the film isn’t really about the phenomenon. It uses Karaoke as its vehicle to bring these people together.

(My favorite thing to do while I was watching the movie was to periodically say, “Only the Power of Karaoke can bring them together.” Or “The Power of Karaoke compels you!” If you see the film with friends or family, feel free to try the same thing.)

Looking back on the film, it actually doesn’t hold up very well. Like I said, you learn virtually nothing about Karaoke and the nut jobs, I mean people, who immerse themselves in the Life. (If the people who’d made BEST IN SHOW or A MIGHTY WIND had done this, I think we’d get more authenticity.)

But that’s only looking back. While watching, I found DUETS delightful. More importantly—and I can’t stress enough how big a deal this is—so did my family. It’s pretty rare to find a movie that we all can enjoy. Either they’re offended or I’m rolling my eyes or…you know what I’m saying. It’s just part of being a family, all over the map. Don’t get me wrong; we enjoy lots of films, but to find a small little project like this, and everyone have a good time watching; well, that’s saying something.

Hyperion’s Rating System

Suspension of Disbelief: There’s nothing super-natural, but you do have to lean heavily on coincidental fate. 4 (out of 10).

Genre Grade: Since the Karaoke part is only at the very end, DUETS is more of a Road movie mixed with a Buddy film. With the different vignettes I suppose you could compare it to CRASH or SYRIANA, but that would be unfair, since those are weighty issue-driven films, and DUETS is a character study. I guess that’s what I’ll call it. B.

Sex/Violence? There is some sexy content here, and some foul language (which really was unnecessary, considering the tone of the movie). The film is Rated R, and while it’s not much, you might want to look out for that if out if you have kids or old people.

Pantheon Percentile: Not the greatest film ever made, but one you could watch more than once. 63.

There are a few songs, but mostly just snippets here and there. If you’re not a fan of music I wouldn’t worry too much. If you are a fan of music, all the actors do a pretty great job: not like professionals, but real people who have the courage to sing up on stage; which I guess is what Karaoke is all about. (I’m guessing the soundtrack would be awesome.) I also have to take a moment to laud Huey Lewis. Not only is his singing awesome, but he holds his own against Gwyneth Paltrow.

(Actually, there is something I found strange about that Duet. Gwyneth’s dad Bruce Paltrow directed the film, and her character deals with a father who abandoned her his entire life. Gwyneth’s character seems inexhaustibly forgiving, and I wondered if there were shades of real life in that. I was going to write and ask her, but obviously I can’t have a serious conversation with anyone who names her child “Apple.”)

I’d also like to take a moment to plug the performances of Paul Giamatti and Andre Braugher. Long-time readers of my column know how much I love Giamatti, and his character here is another treat. I’m telling you: if Giamatti were good looking he’d have six Oscar nominations already. Some of you might remember Andre Braugher as Detective Frank Pemberton from HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREETS (arguably the best-played character in TV history). Here Braugher has this…tenderness that belies the tough man character he’s playing. It’s really quite touching.

When it’s all said and done, DUETS isn’t going to win any awards, but so what? It was warm sweet and fun to watch. I’d say the Family Movie Project has gotten off to a good start.

If you want to be part of the Family Movie Project, feel free to take our movies (I’ll post earlier in February what it is), or pick your own. Write and let me know how it went.

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