Though the rage of this most reticent, ladylike of actresses might be enough to recommend this soggy drama, here is a movie so genteel that when Andrews falls apart, she guzzles straight from a bottle of Evian water. That's right, without a glass.
Director Andrei Konchalovsky is responsible for such maudlin symbolism. And responsible for opening up the intimate play to add a stampede of characters who distract from the story. In the theater piece, it was just Stephanie Anderson, inspired by real-life cellist Jacqueline DuPre, talking to psychiatrist Louis Feldman, her quavering voice describing her fear that MS might strike while she was playing a concert.
The movie opens with Anderson (Andrews) primly explaining her plight to Feldman (Max von Sydow), doctor and fan. Instead of letting Stephanie's musical voice and phrasing propel the movie, enabling us to share her growing anger, Konchalovsky cuts away to scenes illustrating her nightmares - waking and sleeping. Occasionally, she erupts into profanity.
Except for Andrews' spasmodic outbursts, Konchalovsky's movie is little more than a litany of rhetorical questions. Will MS paralyze Stephanie's hands while she performs a Bach concerto? Will she lose her conductor-husband David Cornwallis (the debauched Alan Bates, clutching his brandy decanter like a teddy bear) to his young secretary? Will her protege, Constantine Kassanis (Rupert Everett in a scene-stealing part), go to Vegas and perform concerts of "Flight of the Bumblebee" at Caesars Palace? Will she give her priceless Guarneri violin to the junk collector? You bet.
At its most unintentionally hilarious, Duet for One lets us know that Stephanie's gone over the top because she's listening not to Berlioz but - oh no! - to big-band music at full blast.
Finally, Duet for One is not about Stephanie's coming to terms with multiple sclerosis, but rather about the people in Stephanie's circle coming to terms with the fact that her career will no longer define her life. Focusing on the grief of all the other characters diminishes the impact of Stephanie's psychic and physical pain. This Duet is a big-band rendition of a Berlioz oratorio.
DUET FOR ONE * *
Produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, directed by Andrei Konchalovsky, written by Tom Kempinski, Jeremy Lipp and Konchalovsky, photography by Alex Thompson, distributed by Cannon Films.Running time: 1 hour, 47 mins.
Stephanie Anderson - Julie Andrews
David Cornwallis - Alan Bates
Dr. Louis Feldman - Max von Sydow
Constantine Kassanis - Rupert Everett
Parent's guide: Rated R (nudity, sex, profanity)
Showing: Ritz Five.