Friday, May 26, 2017

Gwyneth Paltrow and Huey Lewis – "Cruisin'" (2000)

Glad your going my way
I love it when we're cruisin' together

When I was a teenager, I listened to the radio to hear new records.

Later, the internet became my primary source for new music.

Today, I become acquainted with a lot of unfamiliar music at the group exercise class at my 91-year-old mother’s assisted living place.

Julia, the instructor, generally favors R&B songs from the nineties and the aughts – which is not exactly my musical wheelhouse.

She’s played today’s featured song in each of the last several classes, and it’s become a favorite of mine – which is something I never thought I’d say about a Gwyneth Paltrow-Huey Lewis duet.  (Yes, I’m talking about that Gwyneth Paltrow.)

*     *     *     *     *

Gwyneth Paltrow’s father Bruce was a TV/movie writer, director, and producer.  (If you’re as old as I am, you almost certainly remember two television shows that Paltrow produced: The White Shadow and St. Elsewhere

Paltrow died from oral cancer in 2002 while he was in Rome to celebrate Gwyneth’s 30th birthday.

A very young Gwyneth Paltrow
with her late father Bruce
The father and his daughter worked on only one movie together: Duets, a 2000 film that Bruce Paltrow co-produced and directed.  Duets featured not only Gwyneth Paltrow (who was coming off an Academy Award-winning performance in Shakespeare in Love) but also up-and-comers Paul Giamatti (Sideways, 12 Years a Slave, Love & Mercy) and Maria Bello (The Cooler, A History of Violence, Thank You for Smoking).

Duets is about karaoke competitions.  (If you weren’t aware that there was such a thing as karaoke competitions, feel free to sit your ass down next to mine because I sure as hell wasn’t aware that there such a thing as karaoke competitions either.)

The plot of the movie revolves around three pairs of people who hook up in various implausible ways.  All of them end up competing against one another at a big karaoke contest in Omaha.  (How big a karaoke contest?  The first prize is FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS – that’s how big.)

One of the pairs consists of Paltrow and her absentee father, who is played by Huey Lewis, a professional karaoke hustler.

Paltrow and Lewis in “Duets”
The second pair are Maria Bello (another veteran of the karaoke competition circuit) and an alcoholic priest wannabe who is now a cabdriver.  (The cabbie part was originally given to Brad Pitt, who was Paltrow’s boyfriend at the time.  But when the couple broke up, Pitt opted out of the role.)

The third pair consists of Giamatti and a hitchhiking escaped criminal who Giamatti picks up.

As this Wikipedia summary of the subplot relating to Giamatti and his hitchhiker sidekick indicates, Duets – which one critic described as “six characters in search of a movie” – was one hot mess:

Depressed California salesman Todd Woods (Paul Giamatti) is so exhausted from business travel that he doesn't even know what city he's in; and when he gets home, his wife Candy and two children are too self-absorbed to even say hello.  Bored, he walks out on his family and his old life, and begins to drive aimlessly around the country. 

He wanders into a karaoke bar in New Mexico, where a fellow participant offers him beta blockers to help him overcome his anxiety and stage fright.  He gets hooked on the drugs as he keeps driving, and in Utah he picks up hitchhiker Reggie Kane, a charismatic but violent fugitive convict, who had already robbed the previous truckdriver who gave him a lift at gunpoint.  

The plucky convict is intimidated by Todd's emotionless demeanor, but the two form an unlikely and close friendship after Reggie reveals a beautiful singing voice during a duet at another karaoke bar.  As they travel, Todd's mental health deteriorates further and Reggie tries his best to keep him out of trouble; he first has to drag Todd out of a hotel when he threatens the clerk with a gun; then, after Todd's careless behavior causes a stand-off at a service station, Reggie intervenes but shoots and kills the attendant.  

Reggie arranges for Candy to meet them in Omaha in an attempt to reconcile them, but when she arrives, a still emotionless Todd rejects her, saying that he is finished with his former life.

 The “Duets” DVD case
Wikipedia doesn’t reveal which of the contestants wins the $5000 grand prize and lives happily ever after (at least until the $5000 runs out in a few weeks).

But I’ve got to think the very nice Lewis-Paltrow cover of Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin’” comes out on top.  Maria Bello’s performance of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” could give Lewis and Paltrow a run for their money, but I have a hard time believing that Paul Giamatti’s versions of the Otis Redding classic, “Try a Little Tenderness,” or Todd Rundgren’s classic “Hello It’s Me” won the big prize.

Here the scene from Duets where Huey Lewis and Gwyneth Paltrow – who turns out to be a pretty good singer – combine on “Cruisin’”:

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