Life With Music, starring the legendary Patrick Stewart and Katie Holmes, is a melodious piece of cinema that’s not only guided by various beautiful pieces of music but the sound of Stewart and Holmes’ charming performances. It’s also an interesting concept that brings these two talented stars together. However, for all the potential and positives of director Claude Lalonde’s film, there are one too many elements holding Life With Music back from being a film worthy of Stewart and Holmes’ performances.
The film tells the story of Henry Cole (Stewart), a legendary pianist, who’s nearing the end of his career and is battling with crippling stage fright before meeting and being inspired by music journalist Helen Morrison (Holmes). The film brilliantly opens with narration from Helen, who talks about her own life while also symbolically setting up Henry’s story. We are then transported to Henry playing in front of a large crowd, where he plays with mesmerizing excellence and speed before running out of the venue in a panic. It’s a fantastic opening that sets up the story of Henry, and visually showcases the wonderful musical element with close-ups of Henry’s hands playing the piano, and immediately after the show, he interacts with Helen for the first time.
Life With Music’s set up is fast, efficient, and immediately showcases all its most impressive elements, such as its wonderful use of music. As one would expect from a film like this one, the use of music is an important tool that helps drive the narrative in a variety of ways. There is never a shortage of beautiful piano music accompanying the story, but how the team effortlessly transfers its music from diegetic to non-diegetic is one of the film’s most impressive feats. In one scene, Henry is getting a pep talk from his agent Paul (Giancarlo Esposito), and during the talk, the piano music is at a fever pitch, matching the motivating tone of Paul’s words. And moments later, that same music switches from enhancing the impact of the dialogue to Paul then hearing Henry playing the piano, showing us that his talk had the desired effect on Henry. It’s a small yet effective transition that beautifully shows the many traits of the music.
Although Lalonde’s film does possess some enjoyable qualities like its use of music, nothing can match or equal the impact that Stewart’s performance as Henry has on this narrative. Stewart is captivating in almost every scene, and while he brilliantly brings the words of the script to life, it’s his excellent facial expressions that stand out in this film. In the scene where Henry has to perform for a small group of people, the moment he sits down at the piano, his face switches to a look of uncertainty, before slowly switching back to joy when Helen plays alongside him. There is no dialogue, simply changes in Stewart’s demeanour and the way he effortlessly switches between his character’s ever-changing emotions speaks volumes, more than any words could.
Lalonde employs a lot of symbolism throughout the film, adding a certain “artsy” feel to the overall presentation, as well as further illustrating Henry’s struggles. Unfortunately, this artistic drive also brings the film down on more than one occasion. Irrelevant shots like seeing Henry’s reflection in a pool before the camera panning up to Henry or the camera zooming from the mountains to Henry on the distant road take you out of the narrative, and feel very much like overkill in this almost non-stop quest of capturing visually pleasing and artistic shots.
Also, the momentum of Life With Music comes to a screeching halt in its climax. The script features interesting swerves and directions early on. However, by the end, audiences can likely predict where their protagonist will end up, but on route to that destination, there is a never-ending cycle of somewhat repetitive shots of Henry that even Stewart cannot make tolerable. It’s an unfortunate final twenty/thirty minutes that seemingly undoes a lot of the good work done by the actors and the creative forces behind the project.
In the end, the performance of Stewart and his wonderful chemistry with Holmes carries this film. Even the supporting cast, mainly Esposito, play their part. However, the aggressive nature in which Lalonde and his team force various elements into the film ultimately works against them, making this 1 hour and 30 minute plus film feel too long. By the time the credits roll, you almost think back to Henry’s early dialogue: “People enjoy the show, but really, it’s the looming disaster that makes it special.” Only in Life With Music, it’s the “looming disaster” that removes this story’s special qualities.
Dir: Claude Lalonde
Scr: Louis Godbout
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Katie Holmes, Giancarlo Esposito
Run time: 1 hour 36 mins
Available on digital download from July 27th