- Movie Rating -

Duet for One (1987)

| January 23, 1987

All through Duet for One I sat there trying my best to connect with it.  This is the story of a world-class violinist who slowly but surely begins to realize that her hands can no longer create the magic.  She has multiple sclerosis and it will soon rob her of her gift, her expression, her legacy and her livelihood.  Early on, I poured a lot of empathy into this situation.  How would I respond if I suddenly couldn’t write because my hands could not function?  Sure, there are electronic means of getting around it, but the intimate bond between your hands and your instrument would be lost.

A lot of that is found at the opening of Duet for One, and because the violinist is played by Julie Andrews, it was fairly easy.  She plays Stephanie Anderson, who denies that anything is wrong but ultimately has to face the fact that her body is becoming less and less reliable.  Multiple Sclerosis is so unpredictable that although there are moments of clarity when things seem to have ironed themselves out, there is no assurance.

What works here is the performance by Andrews not as a suffering saint but as a defiant woman determined to be the master of her own fate.  She doesn’t play the sweet gentility that we expect but a rather stubborn and vain woman who refuses to be defeated.  She is also, we soon learn, very difficult to be close to, in some scenes she’s rather off-putting.

This is especially true in her relationship with her husband David (Alan Bates), a devastatingly weak alcoholic who is bitter and angry and, we know, will leave her as the disease sets in.  The few close relationships that she has will be rewritten and redefined but not always in a manner that makes them stronger.

The best parts of the movie are the reorganization of those relationships and also Stephanie’s attempts to find something in her life that feels real.  Midway through the movie she has a sexual affair with a junk dealer (Liam Neeson) not out of romance but perhaps to feel something, to have a moment that isn’t organized but is spontaneous and very passionate.

I connected with Stephanie’s intent and if the movie had simply stayed with her circumstances, I might have liked it more.  But it keeps getting distracted by her volatile relationship with her husband who is weak and bitter and angry at always having to live in his wife’s shadow.  They have a confrontation that is uncomfortable not in the situation but in the way it is written.  Something about their screaming feels like it comes off the page or out of the requirements of the plot.  It really doesn’t work, and neither does Bates’ performance which feels oddly cliched. 

I found a lot of the movie to be cliched.  The disease is not treated on the human terms that we expect, or might have expected coming form Russian director Andre Konchalovsky whose previous work, like Maria’s Lovers, was brimming with great passion.  Here he seems to be riding rails and the tenets of Stephanie’s progression seem to be listed rather than organic.  In that way, I found the movie difficult to connect with.  It’s not a bad movie, but I kept wishing that it would cut the cord and be more realistic.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1987) View IMDB Filed in: Drama