Karaoke, it’s a way of life. Maybe not for most people, but for the cast of the new Bruce Paltrow film Duets (Buena Vista), karaoke gives the common man the chance to be a star, even if it’s only for three and a half minutes.
The film is about six lost individuals searching for something more out of life, who find each other due to a twist of fate and the art of karaoke. The film focuses on three pairs of characters who drive cross-country chasing following their karaoke dreams and running from the lives they once knew.
The relationships between the members of each duet and their life stories create three different subplots. First, there is the heart-wrenching story of the young and innocent Vegas showgirl, Liv, played by Gwyneth Paltrow (Emma). She unexpectedly finds her father, who abandoned her and her mother when she was born, and decides to follow him. Her father, Ricky Dean, who is played by 80’s pop-music star Huey Lewis, travels to karaoke bars across the country and hustles local favorites. While Liv treats him like the daddy she always dreamed of, Ricky does not want to play father so late in his life.
Duets also brings together Suzi Loomis, a liberal-minded waitress with an angelic voice, and Billy, an underachieving cab driver whose life is falling apart before his eyes. Suzi, played by Maria Bello (Coyote Ugly), convinces her partner, played by Scott Speedman (Felicity), to drive to California so she can become a recording star. The relationship between Billy and Suzi does not add much to the film, but Suzi’s sexually explicit personality adds a touch of humor.
An overworked suburban salesman, Todd Woods, and ex-con Reggie Kane make up the most entertaining pair in the film. Paul Giamatti (Private Parts) plays Woods, who is sick of his typical, white, middle-class suburban lifestyle. Woods decides to go out for a pack of cigarettes, but instead manages to fall in love with karaoke, experiment with pills and pick up the hitchhiking ex-con, played by Andre Braugher (Homicide, Get On The Bus), on a desert highway. His apparent freedom from the throes of middle age goes to Woods’ head, and his grip on reality becomes dangerously loose. The most entertaining parts of the film come when the two characters interact. They display pure genius as Giamatti portrays a man searching for mental freedom and Braugher plays a man determined never to give back his physical freedom. The characters grow to become close friends as they realize that, although they come from two different worlds, they both feel trapped.
The film ends when the six characters inevitably come together, along with karaoke enthusiasts from around the country, for the $5,000 Grand Prize Karaoke Contest in Omaha, Neb. The majority of the story takes place on the road to Omaha, but it is only when the characters meet here to battle it out that all six meet for the first time. The film ends with mixed emotions, leaving the viewer wondering what will become of the lives of these six lost souls.
One of the most interesting aspects of the film is that most of the main characters perform all their own songs. Huey Lewis performs a rockin’ rendition of Joe Cocker’s Feeling Alright, and Paltrow performs Bette Davis Eyes with all the sexuality of Kim Carnes. Maria Bello and Todd Woods also perform on the film’s soundtrack.
Duets has its high and low points. Most of the high points involve Todd Woods and Reggie Kane. But the viewer can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the amount of characters introduced in the beginning of the film. One doesn’t get a sense for who most of the characters are, especially Suzi, until very late in the movie.
Paltrow’s performance adds a disappointing aspect to the film. She is not given a chance to display her skill as a highly talented actress. It is refreshing, however, to see her in a role that allows her to be imperfect.
Overall, Duets is a funny, original and entertaining film that will make you want to run out to the nearest karaoke bar and belt out your best rendition of I Will Survive.