There’s a brief moment in “When I Live My Life Over Again” that’s really quite special, following what feels like one of its more tertiary characters Corinne (Kelli Garner) into her car as she softly sings Frank Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid” to herself the morning after she watched her sister Jude (Amber Heard) and her father Paul (Christopher Walken), an esteemed Sinatra-esque crooner perform a duet for a bit of fun for the whole family but her. Considered the more business-oriented sister rather than the creative one, Corinne can never be loved in the same way by Paul as Jude, though perhaps loved even more, the scene lasts but a few seconds and yet it’s the kind of detail that lifts writer/director Robert Edwards’ sophomore feature above the many other time old tales of dysfunctional families, particularly when show business is involved. Well, that and giving a plum role to Walken where he can indulge his oft-used musical skills.
There’s a sparkle in Walken’s eye as he plays Paul, whose storied career is told on the walls of his house in pop art portraits of himself and album covers. (Production designer Scott Kuzio and art director Fletcher Chancey deserve special credit for telling much of the film’s backstory through his sets.) A “slum in the Hamptons” as he calls it, Paul is looking to hit the road and appeal to a new generation, believing he has just the ticket with a new single that shares its name with the film’s title. His creative rejuvenation coincides with Jude finding herself in stasis, traveling in from the city to help settle a lawsuit over a song she sang backup vocals on, throwing into disarray the peaceful life Paul has set up for himself with his eighth or ninth wife Lucille (Ann Magnusson) and Corinne and her husband Tim (Hamish Linklater), who have made themselves at home in Paul’s manse.
“When I Live My Life Over” doesn’t get out of the house much, but Edwards crafts compelling enough dynamics between all the characters that you hardly notice. Although familiar issues are raised – the neglectful father, the sibling rivalry between wild child Jude and the uptight Corinne, the golddigging stepmother the kids don’t like – it rings true because of how each character is given their due, both in Edwards’ insistence on adding extra dimension for all involved and relaxed, lived in performances from a solid cast that never raises the film to the level of melodrama. Walken and Linklater have made careers of such an ease about them, but Heard and Garner are more surprising as Jude and Corinne, respectively, exuding a comfort onscreen that reminds that they’re family even when they’re at each other’s throats.
“When I Live My Life Over Again” does have what you’d call an arc in Paul’s quest to get back in front of big crowds, scoring an opening slot with The Flaming Lips that would appear to be his big break. (One of the film’s funniest moments plays on Walken’s distinct pronunciational prowess to illuminate his differences with Jude in saying the Oklahoma band’s name in a certain way.) But Edwards doesn’t ever appear all that interested in whether he’ll find success or if Jude will get out of her funk and channel her talent into something meaningful. Instead, he’s content to drop into their lives and get to know them in a way that seems unusual and rare. The film features original songs written by Edwards and composer Joe McGinty, which gives it a little bit of pop in every meaning of the term and while Jude and Paul always seem just one step away from the spotlight, headed in either direction, “When I Live My Life Over Again” allows everyone the chance to shine.
“When I Live My Life Over Again” does not yet have U.S. distribution. It will play at the Tribeca Film Festival once more on April 25th at the Regal Cinemas Battery Park at 6:15 pm.