DVD Review: Once More with Feeling (2009)

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As the son of a former successful singer and bandleader who gave up the unstable gig to provide for his first generation Italian American children in America, music has always run in the family of Connecticut based psychiatrist Dr. Frank Gregorio (Chazz Palminteri). However, it isn't until after first a Japanese patient discusses karaoke with him and secondly a child suggests that Frank purchase a karaoke machine for his granddaughter's birthday that Frank realizes precisely just how much he's been longing to get behind the microphone himself.

Fond of crooning old ballads, big band standards, and cabaret style hits of yesteryear when Ol' Blue Eyes and Dean Martin were the top of the pops, soon Frank begins paying regular visits to a nearby bowling alley with a karaoke bar lounge.

While his wife Angelina (Maria Tucci) initially accompanies Frank on his quest to – as he initially phrases it – rehearse for his daughter Susan's upcoming wedding, eventually Angelina stays home as she realizes that the karaoke venture is serving an entirely different need in her husband's life as he muses about what could've been if, unlike his father, he hadn't been practical and opted to try and make a career out of music.

Forming a close bond with the divorced Linda (Linda Fiorentino) who believes strongly in Frank's talent and offers to give him a makeover and work with him so that he can compete in local amateur contests, soon Frank begins putting his needs ahead of the members of his family, completely clueless that his eldest daughter Lana (Drea de Matteo) is struggling through her own life crisis as well.

Essentially the movie plays like Shall We Dance? translated to the karaoke scene with an Italian American focus. And although Flannel Pajamas director Jeff Lipsky's work that screened as an Official Selection of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival may boast some terrific talent in its ensemble cast as both Palminteri and de Matteo are both uniformly excellent (even though the latter character isn't particularly likable), unfortunately we never feel completely engaged with the plotline.

There's a problem with authenticity overall as ultimately we grasp that Palminteri doesn't have the same musical gusto as other actors turned singers and therefore never really makes us believe he could've made it even if his character hadn't gone into medicine.

However, even without coming to that conclusion, the film basically seemed doomed from the start as screenwriter Gina O'Brien filled her work with so many selfish and needy characters that it's overall unappealing to the point where it's hard not to cringe with irritation whenever de Matteo is forced to act out another over-dramatized breakdown onscreen concerning her unruly children.

And sadly, even in spite of the decision by the filmmakers to wrap everything up nearly with a protracted happy ending, the damage had already been done in assuring that by the last scene we just don't care if suddenly their lives are harmonious since so much about Once More with Feeling had felt distinctly off-key up until the final song.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.