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Like a record playing at the wrong turntable setting

4/10
Author: MBunge from Waterloo, Iowa
20 December 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a description that won't mean much to people younger than me, but Easy Listening is like a 78 rpm record being played at 45. There is a pronounced lack of energy and slackness to everything which drags down both its tale of May-December romance and its more interesting take on ego and cultural alienation. The acting, writing and even direction has moments of well intentioned charm. It's just that the cast and crew needed to drink about 10 more cups of coffee every morning before starting work.

In 1967, Burt (David Ian) is a middle-aged, pot-bellied and bald spot-sporting trumpet player in an "easy listening" orchestra that appears to record music for movies and possibly television. It's not entirely clear because the movie largely assumes the audience is familiar with this setup and understands the difference between "easy listening" and other musical genres. Burt loathes his job and the music that he plays and nurses desperate ambitions of playing jazz instead. Then a pretty young flutist named Linda (Traci Crouch) joins the orchestra and takes an almost immediate shine to Burt.

Linda gradually draws the stoic Burt out of his shell with her combination of free spiritedness and small town virtue, but her pull also has to contend with Burt's essentially psychotic ex-wife, Helen (Mary Frank Madera). Her father owns the orchestra where Burt works and Helen has this weird and hateful habit of calling Burt on the phone and ruthlessly berating and denigrating him. Helen actually sicks a private eye on Burt and threatens to get Linda fired unless Burt breaks up with her. There's also a fragmentary subplot about a talent scout coming to listen to the orchestra, but calling that perfunctory would be the highest praise it could ever receive.

At the heart of Easy Listening is Burt's embittered alienation from his own time. He's great at playing "easy listening" music, yet has convinced himself that it's crap because it's not "hip" and "happening". Burt is a 1950s guy in a 1960s world but instead of resenting the changing society around him, Burt is angry and disappointed in himself for not fitting in. Linda tries to resolve his conflict by explaining the differences between the souls of black people and white people, which sounds just as strange as you would think.

There's a family film feel to most of the production, then some more adult and explicit material gets thrown in at the very end. It's not a terribly complex or sophisticated story and I don't think anyone needed to see quite so much of David Ian in nothing but black socks and not-so-tighty whiteys. What really trips this motion picture up, though, is having such a low energy level. At 85 minutes long, it could only have benefited from getting cut down to an hour or less and the quicker tempo that would have produced.

Ian is suitably sullen and sulky as Burt and Traci Crouch manages to balance Linda's overwhelming niceness with being a real human being. Nobody else in the cast gets to do much of anything and writer/director Pamela Corkey only has a few scenes where she's able to do anything more than mechanical filmmaking, though she does score with Burt and Linda's big reunion at the end.

If it had been faster, had a little more pep and figured out whether it wanted to be family-friendly or not, Easy Listening might have been a decent flick. Arranged as it is, its deficiencies manage to barely outweigh its strengths. Find something better to watch.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Quirky, funny, moving, but hardly family fare

9/10
Author: signinstranger from Sacramento, CA
19 August 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Burt is 40-going-on-15, playing in a Muzak-type orchestra and hating it. Twenty-something Linda, replacing the flautist who died during the previous session, loves playing the cheesy music and finally convinces Burt to enjoy his talents, just in time for the talent scout from the 101 Strings Orchestra to see his enthusiasm. The only true mystery is why Linda would have any interest in Burt at all, but the missing back story is suggested when she plays one of Burt's own recordings, apparently from before he was reduced to his numbing gig. Some occasional adult language -- startling in this context -- makes this definitely not family fare, but this well done indie has some wonderful laugh-out-loud moments.

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1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

The music, both background and "live" is supportive of the film.

6/10
Author: Alan (kalan@mediaone.net) from Burlington, Massachusetts
13 July 2002

The premise of stale musicians playing background music for films is pleasantly presented. Some still play for the money, others for the love of music and one or two who hope to use this orchestra as a platform to be seen. The old "Boy -Meets-Girl" theme is a little weak but her role is kind of cutesy and well played. Not bad family fare.

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