One More Time (2015)
Directed/Written by: Robert Edwards
Produced by: Lucas Joaquin, Saemi Kim, Saerom Kim, Lars Knudsen, Jay Van Hoy, Ferne Pearlstein, Chris Maybach
Starring: Christopher Walken, Amber Heard, Kelli Garner, Hamish Linklater, Oliver Platt, Ann Magnuson
Music by: Joe McGinty
Cinematography by: Anne Etheridge
Editing by: Mollie Goldstein
In 2015, When I Live My Life Over Again had its premiere at the TriBeCa Film Festival, and flew under the radar afterwards for a year. Now called One More Time, it had a boutique theatrical run in April of this year thanks to Starz Digital and will become available on DVD on June 7th. Christopher Walken, he of the highly imitable voice and the beautifully disjointed physical rhythms, stars as Paul Lombard, a Jewish crooner of the Frank Sinatra variety in the Michael Buble age. Lombard and his louche scarves are jockeying for a career resurgence, lent confidence by an original tune that came to him in a flash. A long-time musical interpreter – as opposed to a more respectable singer/songwriter – Walken’s womanizing, swaggering Paul becomes a paradigm of the late-life crisis all thanks to the fickleness of his muse.
At the same time, his wayward daughter Jude (Amber Heard, from that Australian PSA about animal travel) returns to her parents’ Hamptons home, broke and conducting an affair with her married therapist. How Jude, an obviously gifted young musician, failed to find success with her fool-proof post-punk outfit, Pussy Fart, no one knows; but her poverty remains a major bone of contention with Paul. Also offended by Jude’s pink hair and Nina Simone tattoos are her bratty sister (Kelli Garner), her brother-in-law (warm, lovely Hamish Linklater, who deserves so much given his work in The Future and The Big Short), and Paul’s fifth wife – or is it sixth? – Lucille, nastily embodied by Ann Magnuson. That Jude was once a wunderkind, and is now forced into living with her father in enforced financial and literal sobriety, is a sad and disturbing sensation for all involved. And despite the tender, subtle directorial hand of Robert Edwards, who also wrote the script, I too found myself shaken – seriously distressed – by Jude’s path.
This has only a small amount to do with Edwards’s screenplay, which demonstrates equal sensitivity to damaged father-daughter dynamics as it does to the behavior of pop crooners, post-Herb Alpert. Edwards and his editor, Mollie Goldstein, move the film as smoothly as Glengoyne, with few escalations in mood or pace; much of the film takes place in the Lombards’ sparkly home, which is kept up by sweet Lourdes (Sandra Berrios.) No one yells, though Jude, Paul, and Garner’s Corinne often bicker. One More Time is not upsetting because its dramatic rhythms are bumpy or bombastic; in fact, its calmness is apropos to this less-than-earth-shattering material. Instead, Edwards and Goldstein aim for quietus – an unusual tack for a film oriented around musicians, but a smart one, as far as these flicks go.
What shook me up (in a good way, I think, or at least in an authentic way) was the incisiveness with which the filmmakers rendered Heard’s and Walken’s collapsed relationships to their art. Jude’s dalliance with professional recording only resulted in one LP – “and an EP!” – but she seems to have moved her performances either to her bedroom, where she fiddles by moonlight on an acoustic guitar, or to a sound stage where she performs regional radio jingles. Music remains within her, but suppressed, muted, and nearly abandoned; even after encouragement from Paul, her brother-in-law, and her incorrigible lawyer (Oliver Platt), she still sings shyly, hesitantly. There may still be talent, but her passion is muddied by and suffering from years of self-abuse.
Her successful father is her direct opposite: into his seventies, he is desperate to perform and in the throes of a creative resurgence. When he gets the opportunity to premiere his new single as the opener for The Flaming Lips, he jumps at the chance, even though he risks being mocked by hipsters as a kitsch act. That Paul is known for his covers of pop standards, rather than his personal music, only increases his need to prove himself to his family and the listening public. Not coincidentally, I believe, I’m reminded of the portrait of Tony Bennett in his son Danny’s film The Zen of Bennett, which showed the legendary crooner to be totally serious about continuing his career into his nineties, as well as the late Christopher Lee’s last metal album. For him, performing is a palliative measure against both his inner grief at having never been taken seriously as an original and his impending death. His catchphrase, to boot, seems to be: “I’m going to die soon.”
Edwards pulls jokes from the poles his characters’ occupy – from the “cold front” between them, as Platt says – but the drama of it attracts me more because it feels excruciatingly familiar.
Last year, in a review of Virtuosity, I wrote here about my background as a classical piano player. Those years, between the ages of four and eighteen, were troublesome and hellish when it came to live performance. I do not suffer from stage fright and I love concerts, recitals, musicals, and all manner of sound-driven entertainment. What was stultifying for me was my lack of passion for the instrument. I never warmed to playing the piano, not in fifteen years of practice; nor did I respond well to my dad’s guitar, keyboards, or my own flute in high school. And from the moment I left the house for college, I declared my permanent disinterest in playing music for others. My mother found this upsetting, but my father was mortified. While my teenaged declaration holds true today, I do sing in the car or shower and riff to songs on air-piano with friends and family, many of whom are professional musicians or entertainers.
None of the people in my life, however, loves to perform – or needs to, rather – as strongly as my father. Like Lombard, he is quietly and somewhat agnostically Jewish, but often mistaken for Italian (in the fictional character’s case, by design.) Both are fueled creatively by a Baby Boomer ethos towards high-level accomplishment that cannot be quelled or satisfied by money. Furthermore, after raising a family and venturing into business outside of the industry, my dad returned to writing music late in his life; the way he and Lombard both tell it, their most fulfilling work was conceived of in the immediate past. Finally, lest we forget the connection, both parents remain troubled by the fact that their eldest offspring, who showed such promise as young musicians, have for all intents and purposes forsaken the path of the wunderkind for such work as film criticism.
The comparisons stop there, though, as my father shows me unbelievable support for a person whose son ended a family tradition (my father’s father also played piano) and I am not emotionally hung up on my sister’s husband. Still, watching One More Time, and recognizing the dynamics at work in the family created by Edwards, Goldstein, and his actors, the similarities between my reality and the filmmakers’ constructed one struck me down. Paul, a Rat Packer born much too late, is the best of Walken’s recent, wonderful roles, while Heard’s Jude is a smart and sarcastic buddy to match. So I’m warning you now: try not to find yourself breaking down, too, when they perform “Somethin’ Stupid” together.