Duets review

Okay, so "'Gwyneth Paltrow sings!"' may not be up there with "'Garbo talks!'" in the pantheon of great motion picture moments. But if this slight, meandering road movie will be remembered for anything, it's for revealing that the Shakespeare In Love star can carry a tune with the best.

If director Bruce Paltrow had focused solely on his daughter's warbling, we could be talking Oscar speeches. However, the relationship between Gwyneth's ditzy showgirl and her lounge-lizard pop is only one of the dramatic "duets" that make up John Byrum's script. And it's a pity, because Gwynnie's eager-to-please Liv is by far the most likeable of the six protagonists.

But at least it means we see less of Huey Lewis, whose wooden performance as Liv's dad instantly consigns him to the long list of pop singers who shouldn't give up their day jobs. Keeping the acting honours well away from Huey is Paul Giamatti, a bundle of sweaty, nervous energy as a salesman approaching Falling Down-style meltdown. Fleeing his wife, kids and affluent yuppie lifestyle, he spends most of the movie railing against corporate America - much to the bemusement of Andre Braugher's Reggie Kane, the ex-convict he picks up on his travels, who provides the key to the drama's tragic denouement.

It's this unlikely partnership which comes closest to embodying the film's central theme: that true life lessons can be found in the comfort of strangers. And it certainly works better than the third plotline, which finds a taxi-driving doofus (Scott Speedman) giving a ride to a starstruck waitress (Maria Bello) who's only too happy to sleep her way to the top.

Duets grinds to a halt whenever this couple are on screen, while Bello's take on the Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams is nothing short of vandalism. Still, there are enough high Cs in this family affair to excuse the occasional bum note, while Gwyneth makes sure we come away humming.

A long time in the making (Brad Pitt was once involved), this karaoke melodrama suffers from some duff thesping and a weak plot strand. But Paul Giamatti's edgy performance and Gwyneth Paltrow's fine singing voice keep Duets in tune.

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