Life with Music written by Louis Godbout is the directorial debut of Claude Lalonde. It follows a virtuoso pianist in the twilight years of his career who struggles with stage fright but finds a cure from an unlikely source. Sadly at no point does it get any more exciting than that for a film which is contrived and wholly forgettable.
It appears that Godbout and Lalonde hoped to put forward a poignant and gentle story of an unlikely friendship. A deep connection between two people that cracks the funk the protagonist is stuck in, while also celebrating human relationships, and our connection to music. It does none of these things. At no point does the stage-fright of our virtuoso protagonist feel like a genuine conflict, and any possible origin or understanding is never examined deeper than passing comments. As a point of entry, this makes it almost impossible to commit to the journey he is supposed to be on. The virtuoso pianist is Henry Cole played by the brilliant, although not in this film, Patrick Stewart. Not only is Cole’s stage fright hard to believe, but any mention of a possible backstory is confused and flat. Key moments are mentioned but none really appear to influence him in the present tense. As far as fully-formed characters go, this is as close as it gets.
The second half of this unlikely friendship is New Yorker music critic Helen Morrison played by Katie Holmes. Again, another character with no unique personality whatsoever and nothing driving the arc of her narrative at all. The most fleshed-out elements of her story are a past failure and an old romance. Her friendship with Henry feels painfully forced. Through a couple of unnatural and contrived interactions, we as an audience are told to believe this is enough for these two to become best of friends. Furthermore, the conclusion to her arc and their friendship comes to a supremely uncomfortable conclusion which only adds insult to injury. It also highlights the continuing issues of gender politics in cinema and the need to have female writers involved in the creation of these characters.
Rounding out the primary cast is Giancarlo Esposito as Henry’s agent Paul. Considering how little is given or found out about this character Esposito plays the role well. He is as an agent who also plays the role of a friend and must toe the line between what is good for Cole and also his career. But again his narrative arc is flat and fizzles out in a confusing scene that makes little sense.
What Life with Music is trying to say, I’m not sure. Its dialogue feels like stock selected sentences that become more and more frustratingly pretentious with every tangent about German composers, or discussions about time spent in Europe. The moments of playing on stage carry no tension and the quiet, reflective moments feel unnecessary. Many of these issues could be avoided on a basic level by believable conflict. Since there is nothing close to this from the beginning, the audience is left with a viewing experience not worth having.
Written by Conor Crooks
STAR RATING –★
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Thanks to Strike Media for screening access, Life With Music will be available on Digital Download from 27th July