Review by Justin Goodman
In a recent piece for Jacobin, Corey Robin wrote about his encounter with the “millennial experience of futurelessness.” Far from a study on the psychology of 20-somethings, Robin actually expresses that, surprisingly, this generation “weaned and fed…on the idea that life doesn’t get better” pushes Bernie Sanders forward, swearing that the future can be “radically better.” Aptly, research finds that the major difference in Clinton/Sanders demographics is age. This is also the major difference between the aged Jazz Era-crooner Paul Lombard (Christopher Walken) and Jude, his aspiring musician daughter (Amber Heard), the pivot of Robert Edwards’ new film One More Time. One plots a comeback, the other seems uncertain if she wants to make it at all.
The film’s title—derived from Lombard’s comeback single, “When I Live My Life Over Again”—suggests that One More Time is another musician story about pursuing one’s dreams regardless of the consequences. But this is far from the drama of shows like Empire and Nashville where “regardless” tends towards violence and conniving; it’s not a story of prodigy and Stockholm’s like Whiplash. Jude barely survives by providing vocals for radio show jingles in an attempt to distance herself from the grandeur of her father, the stiff businesswoman demeanor of her sister Corinne, the lingering feelings for Corinne’s husband and Jude’s ex, Tim, and her father’s new wife Lucille (regularly referred to as “Lucifer”). Unable to afford her own place, she moves home.
It was reported in Time last year that more young adults live at home with their parents than any other generation since 1940 (Sinatra-mania, interestingly, began in the 1940s). This is no less true for Jude who has to confront all she’d tried to flee; in one of the lighter bonding moments, Jude, Corinne, Tim, and Paul’s business manager Alan, sit around the living room recounting his wives trying to recall a few here and there with euphemisms and descriptions befitting an intimacy that has trouble expression itself except against others. When Paul walks in, as would be expected, they say they were talking about nothing. This is followed with an increasingly common technique in films since Les Miserables 4 years ago: Paul drags Jude up to the piano to sing “Something Stupid” in a sequence of close-ups:
I practice every day to find some clever line to say
To make the meaning come through
But then I think I’ll wait until the evening gets late
And I’m alone with you
The time is right, your perfume fills my head, the stars get red
And, oh, the night’s so blue
And then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid
like “I love you.”
Now, regardless of IMDB’s “Good Looking Bad Actors” list featuring Amber Heard—need I say how offensive it is they’re all female—portrays the ambiguous troubles of a millennial justly, only occasionally her roots in CW television drama coming out during the louder moments. Much of the praise for Christopher Walken will derive from the timeless appeal of the 73 year olds’ legacy, including a love of dancing and singing. In One More Time, however, the light belongs to Jude and not Paul. She’s part rock-chick sleeping with strangers in bars and her psychologist, and angst-ridden young adult caught in the fruitless search for recognition.
Edwards’ only other feature-film release was the 2006 Land of the Blind which, in the way of other indie directors like Rian Johnson and Brian Ackley, (whose Alienated I recently reviewed), doesn’t fully prepare you for the issues that come with One More Time. The action plays out like a dying man’s heart monitor, caught in blocks of intensity that fade into stupors. So when Paul Lombard ends up opening for The Flaming Lips—“they’re making fun of you,” Jude says—the oddity of it is glazed over only to explode after the show, half an hour later, when Paul finally retorts he knew that, but he doesn’t have much time left to enjoy music. When the audience is shown Paul cheating on Lucille before having any reason to believe so, it ruins the surprise of the experience and concludes in a protracted sequence of blame laying and a divorce proceeding with its own complications.
Yet, as this all brews, perhaps the most interesting character is Corinne. Throughout the film she plays the stable mother, silent about her suffering, successful with her life, reminded time and again that Jude is the “special daughter.” Because so much of the film has the aura of reincarnation to it, Jude standing in for the squandered youth of Paul, Corinne is easily overlooked. But it’s Corinne who saves the family in the final confrontation with “Lucifer” and reiterates the morbid condition of the young—underappreciated, conscious of inequalities, bred into a sense of futurelessness, all while fighting with the hopes of a generation having everything to lose. “He hurt me bad,” Lucille says, crying, staring out the window of the café. “He hurts everyone,” Corinne says sadly, acquiescently.
One More Time is a tortured film, in total. As Edwards’ previous film, Land of the Blind, suggests, he is interested in the mechanisms that run authority and the ways we condone authority to be centralized unfairly. Although Jude and Paul’s story is one seemingly bourgeois, it’s no different. Would Paul change had he “one more time”? He suggests not in his non-repentance. In doing so he conveys for himself that the old are bound to a creed that the past, while fine to remember, is nothing to be caught up on; Jude, meandering, is filled with the sense that the past is inescapable and irrevocable and leaves us at odds with the future. Corinne, as small her part, is integral in feeling out a middle ground of middle-class responsibility and morally compromised integrity. It recalls the phrase from which his previous film draws its title: “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”
In Theaters and On Demand April 8 from Starz Digital.