Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Once More with Feeling

2009 Sundance Film Festival ★ ★

I wish I would have enjoyed Once More with Feeling more than I did. It’s a light-hearted story (I like light-hearted). It’s got an unusual premise: a mid-life crisis brought on by karaoke (unusual is good). And the ending was surprisingly … satisfactory (I could have imagined many worse alternatives). But the script is flat, the movie dull and the characters lack depth. Too bad.

Chaz Palminteri plays Frank Gregorio, a 62-year-old shrink who at one time wanted to be a crooner like his father. He has a loving and affectionate relationship with his wife (Maria Tucci—see Law & Order, and Broadway). Life is pretty good until he discovers karaoke as a way to practice for singing at his daughter’s wedding. One thing leads to another as he dreams of being a singer and meets a younger woman (Linda Fiorentino) who inspires him and encourages his karaoke ambitions.

Naturally, this drives a wedge into his marriage and forces him to make some difficult life choices. At the same time, his daughter Theresa (Susan Misner) is going through her own crisis, feeling overwhelmed by her two young children, underappreciated by her husband and dissatisfied with what has become of her body. So we have two kicks at the same can, which proves to be one kick too many, and the two story lines never really reconcile.

Palminteri is quite good as Frank, and Maria Tucci even better as his wife. In fact, the movie is at its best when these two interact on the screen, whether holding hands or arguing. The other performances are uninspired, although the script leaves the actors little to work with. It was a surprise to see Fiorentino again. I haven’t seen her in a film in nearly ten years. She no longer has the, uh, build to play her sexy steamy roles, but she did demonstrate some very impressive chops in her single song. Palmienteri’s singing was also very strong, although that shouldn’t come as such a surprise since he began his career as a singer. None of the performances in the movie were dubbed. That’s very cool.

But despite the delightful music and a few funny lines, Once More with Feeling simply can’t be rescued.

Notes from Sundance
The movie opened in the afternoon at the Prospector Square venue, which isn’t a good sign. Director Jeff Lipsky was very sincere and gracious. He called it a love story, and choked up a bit as he dedicated it to (if I heard right) Simon Channing Williams, his executive producer on Flannel Pajamas.


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