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Ricky Dean (Huey Lewis) is a hustler on the karaoke circuit who travels from town to town. At the beginning of the film, he is in Tulsa on his way to a big competition in Omaha with a $5,000 first prize.
He is detoured by a phone call and travels to Las Vegas for the funeral of an old friend. While there, he meets up with long-lost daughter Liv (Gwyneth Paltrow), who decides she wants to join him on the road.
Meanwhile, stressed-out salesman Todd Woods (Paul Giamatti) realizes he's so burned out from being on the road that he doesn't even know what city he's in.
When he gets home, his wife Candy (Kiersten Warren) and two kids are too self-absorbed to even say hello. Todd goes out for a pack of cigarettes, gets sidetracked, and discovers karaoke. In the process he makes a new friend, hitchhiker Reggie Kane (Andre Braugher), a convict on the lam. Woods tells Reggie what he feels is wrong:
- Our society lacks finesse.
The film then introduces Billy (Scott Speedman), a young man who drives a cab and finds himself involved with sexy Suzi Loomis (Maria Bello). She's on her way to California in a hurry. At first, Billy does not want to help, but Suzi says:
- I'm gonna be the only major thing that has happened to you in your life, and you're gonna be jerking off to my memory on your goddamned death bed!
But what actually inspires Billy to help is his finding out that Suzi's bravado is hollow when he finds her sitting on the floor in the Ladies Room vomiting in the toilet because she is scared to death to perform and compete for the $5,000.00.
Ultimately, karaoke becomes the vehicle through which this eclectic bunch begin to discover just what it is they're looking for. Everyone eventually heads to Omaha, site of a national karaoke competition where this group of singers come together for a sing-off.
The characters use both music and the people they meet in the karaoke bars as a way to alleviate the pressures of life and in the process connect with one another. Each displays unique talents while performing many well-known cover songs throughout the film.
Before the performance, Reggie suggests Woods return to his earlier life even as Woods claims to his wife that he is done with his earlier life. As Reggie and Woods enter the hall, Reggie notices the gathering of policemen looking for him. He is the last person to go on stage and sings a brief song as a tribute to his brief friendship with Woods. As the song ends and policemen enter the hall, Reggie pulls out a gun and is shot by the cops. Woods rushes onstage and Reggie says to him, 'And they say our society has lost it's finesse'. Reggie then tells Woods to go home.
The film ends just as Woods, with his wife, inquires at the travel desk of an airline if they will allow him to use his 800,000 frequent flier miles to book their tickets home, to which the desk employee replies in the affirmative and Woods smiles and repeats Reggie's dying words, 'And they say that our society has lost its finesse'.
- Maria Bello as Suzi Loomis
- Andre Braugher as Reggie Kane
- Paul Giamatti as Todd Woods
- Huey Lewis as Ricky Dean
- Gwyneth Paltrow as Liv
- Scott Speedman as Billy Hannan
- Lochlyn Munro as Ronny Jackson
- John Pinette as Finals singer
- Angie Dickinson as Blair
- Maya Rudolph as Omaha Hostess
- Keegan Connor Tracy as Shelia
- Kiersten Warren as Candy Woods
- Marian Seldes as Harriet Gahagan
- Aaron Pearl as Buddy
- Steve Oatway as Ralph Beckerman
This was the only time Gwyneth Paltrow and her producer/director father Bruce Paltrow worked together on a film project, and it was also Bruce Paltrow's last production before his death.
Brad Pitt was first cast in Speedman's role, but, after he and Gwyneth Paltrow announced the end of their off-camera romance, Pitt decided not to take the role.
Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film a thumbs down on his television program, and wrote on his newspaper review, "Duets has little islands of humor and even perfection, floating in a sea of missed marks and murky intentions." Kenneth Turan, film critic for the Los Angeles Times, described the film: "six characters in search of a movie. Any movie will do..."
Critic Bob Graham, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, liked the spirit of the film and the acting, and he wrote, "Cut 'Duets' some slack. This is an appealing, and ultimately moving, ensemble comedy/drama about ordinary folks whose one chance at anything resembling stardom is a karaoke contest...The fable style is a fragile one. The Ally McBeal test probably applies here. Fans of that show are likely to give themselves over to Duets, too."
Variety critic Todd McCarthy singled out Giamatti's work and character, writing, "Giamatti gets the lion's share of Byrum's good lines and if the film is to go over with auds, it will be largely due to this character and performance, which reps one of the funniest sustained rants against the lowest common denominator in American culture that has been seen in ages."
Overall, many critics echoed Stephanie Zacharek's review in Salon.com. She wrote, "Its three interlocking stories don't find the right rhythmic balance, and some of the dialogue is stiff and mannered." Zacharek did praise the acting and the film's message. She added, "In that respect, the way Duets treats its characters is refreshing. There are brief moments when it reminds us that plenty of people enjoy karaoke at the expense of their audience (during one scene an Asian businessman warbles tunelessly in the background), but Duets isn't out to make anyone look ridiculous."
The producers marketed the film using the following tagline:
- Six lost souls in search of a little harmony.
The film was first presented at the Toronto Film Festival on September 9, 2000. When released, Duets suffered at the box-office. The first week's gross sales at the box-office was $2,002,588 (581 screens) and the total receipts for the run were $4,734,235.
In its widest release the film was featured in 583 theaters and the film was in circulation seven weeks. The production budget was $16,000,000.
- United States: September 15, 2000 (limited basis)
- United Kingdom: December 1, 2000
- New Zealand: January 18, 2001
- Australia: February 8, 2001
A DVD of the film was released on May 8, 2001 by Walt Disney Video. The DVD contained additional features: a commentary track by director Bruce Paltrow and producer Kevin Jones, additional scenes, conversations with director Bruce Paltrow, and a multi-angle music video of "Cruisin'."
An original motion picture soundtrack CD was released on September 12, 2000 by Hollywood Records. The CD contained twelve tracks including the original music composed for the film by David Newman.
The actors who sang their own tunes in the film, and included in the CD, are: Huey Lewis, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Giamatti, and Maria Bello. Arnold McCuller sings all of Andre Braugher's songs including Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird," performed a cappella.
The soundtrack spawned two hit singles in Australasia, with Gwyneth Paltrow and Huey Lewis' "Cruisin'" spending two weeks at #1 in Australia and five weeks at #1 in New Zealand, and Paltrow's "Bette Davis Eyes" also successful in both countries.
The Canadian crooner Michael Bublé has a cameo singing "Strangers in the Night," but it is not included in the soundtrack.
- Feelin' Alright (written by Dave Mason) - Huey Lewis
- Bette Davis Eyes (written by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon) - Gwyneth Paltrow
- Cruisin' (written by Smokey Robinson and Marv Tarplin) - Gwyneth Paltrow and Huey Lewis
- Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me) (written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong) - Babyface and Gwyneth Paltrow
- Try a Little Tenderness (written by Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly, and Harry M. Woods) - Paul Giamatti, Arnold McCuller
- Hello It's Me (written by Todd Rundgren) - Paul Giamatti
- I Can't Make You Love Me (written by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin) - Maria Bello
- Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) (written by Annie Lennox and David A. Stewart) - Maria Bello
- Lonely Teardrops (written by Berry Gordy, Tyran Carlo, and Gwendolyn Gordy) - Huey Lewis
- Copacabana (At the Copa) (written by Jack Feldman, Barry Manilow, and Bruce Sussman) - John Pinette
- Free Bird (written by Allen Collins and Ronnie Van Zant) - Arnold McCuller
- Beginnings/Endings (written by David Newman) - David Newman
- Duets film clip on YouTube (Huey Lewis and Gwyneth Paltrow)
- Duets film clip on YouTube (Paul Giamatti and Andre Braugher)
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