MPI // 2009 // 101 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // June 29th, 2010
Can two generations of an Italian-American family pursue their second chances without making each other crazy?
Imagine yourself in a restaurant, bar or party where a karaoke machine is set up. An amateur singer enthusiastically recites the lyrics that appear over exceedingly corny visuals. Even if the singer does a good job with the song, would you consider him or her a musician? Karaoke is less like training for would-be vocalists and more like a party game to accompany drinking. Watching a live band perform is wholly different than watching your friends play Rock Band. Similar to hearing karaoke at a restaurant, the acting talent involved makes Once More with Feeling mildly interesting at first but it can't hold my attention once my food has arrived.
Frank Gregorio (Chazz Palminteri, Yonkers Joe), the patriarch of this Italian-American family, is a successful psychiatrist. In preparation for singing at his youngest daughter's wedding, Frank discovers karaoke bars and this reignites the passion for song that he gave up so long ago. His wife Angelina (Maria Tucci, To Die For) is supportive but doesn't share the same enthusiasm. So, Frank receives his inspiration from Lydia (Linda Fiorentino, Dogma), a divorcee who loves watching karaoke but never sings herself.
Meanwhile, Frank's oldest daughter Lana (Drea de Matteo, New York, I Love You) is having a midlife crisis. Being a full-time mom to two kids has really taken a toll on her. Lana is afraid her husband may be interested in other women, worried about her deteriorating physical beauty, tempted by the idea of an extramarital encounter and completely reliant on her cell phone. She can't help jumping to the worst conclusion when she sees her father shopping with Lydia.
Karaoke seems to be the unique angle of Once More with Feeling, but it actually figures less prominently in the story than I expected, which is good and bad. While the prospect of hearing a lot of karaoke singing is not greatly appealing, the drama of the Gregorio family turns out to be even less so. Frank and Lana don't do anything especially interesting so watching them make mountains out of their molehills is not an engaging cinematic experience. Their behavior is uninspired when the movie wants to be realistic; and they appear ridiculous when the movie tries to be adventuresome.
Chazz Palminteri is quite affable as the calm, sensible Frank. You can believe that he's the rock in the tepid emotional storm of this family. Yet, the psychiatrist is conveniently inarticulate when the story calls for it. Why wouldn't he tell Angelina that he likes karaoke so much? When he's caught with Lydia, why can't he explain the situation in a couple of sentences? Why doesn't he ask more questions of Lydia to uncover her motivation for encouraging him? He also displays a lapse of rational thinking when he believes his talent at karaoke will lead to a career as a singer. The script itself is lazy about the details concerning karaoke. I don't remember if there was any prize money to be won in the contest Frank entered but there is a divide between participating in an amusement at a bowling alley lounge and entertaining a room full of people at a club that isn't successfully bridged.
Lana's story shares equal time with that of Frank but she is many times more annoying. She is introduced in a flurry of domestic chaos: loud cell phone conversation, barely controllable kids, mini van travel and insults hurled at her sister. That last detail is meant to show their sisterly bond through a familiar exchange of playful barbs but the tone isn't quite right the way it's presented. Lana isn't easily likable so it's hard to have a rooting interest for her during her crisis. She looks like a ticking time bomb so there isn't much comedy to be had from her situation. Lana is a woman in need of help. The resolution of her crisis is a jaw-dropper. While it may be somewhat realistic, and perhaps effective as an interim solution, it is also a disempowering and irresponsible message.
The movie receives a passable technical presentation on this DVD release. The picture has a sometimes-harsh video look and the saturated colors give the image a consistently warmer tone. Darker scenes are slightly soft. The 2.0 stereo mix has an unpleasant hollowness like you're hearing it through an empty cardboard box. The 5.1 surround mix is better with clear dialogue from the center channel while the music and sound effects are balanced across the satellite speakers.
Despite the less than engaging drama, the movie is well paced. It doesn't get bogged down in scenes that are the usual momentum killers. We don't really learn enough about the younger sister and her fiancé to care, so the wedding is a mercifully short scene. Likewise, once it's established that Frank is a talented karaoke singer, the movie doesn't waste time with countless moments of him singing in bars.
A low-key, down-to-earth story about a regular family can be refreshing but it still has to be engaging. Once More with Feeling doesn't excite or surprise with the personal crises of Frank and Lana. Their situations may be realistic but their reactions to them are ordinary. Watching someone play Rock Band at an extraordinary level might be interesting for a while but watching someone play at merely an ordinary level is boring.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated