Friday, July 1, 2011

Voices (1979)

          Had it received the benefits of a careful script rewrite and a more germane selection of musical elements, Voices might have worked, because its simple premise could have been the seed for a sweet romance. Instead, Voices is a well-intentioned but forgettable misfire that, in its worst moments, becomes nearly laughable. Michael Ontkean stars as Drew Rothman, a struggling singer who makes ends meet running deliveries for his grandfather’s dry-cleaning business. While out and about one day, he spots a pretty girl, Rosemarie (Amy Irving), then longs for the day he’ll run into her again. Meanwhile, he wrestles with family dramas—Drew’s dad, Frank (Alex Rocco), is a compulsive gambler, and Drew’s little brother, Raymond (Barry Miller), is getting hassled by school bullies. Then, when Drew finally finds Rosemarie again, he discovers that the dreamgirl he’s been admiring from afar is actually deaf. To the picture’s credit, writer John Herzfeld and director Robert Markowitz aren’t out to make the cheap tearjerker implied by the set-up of a musician falling for a woman who can’t hear. Instead, they’re more interested in the heartening love-conquers-all story of Drew leaving the safety of the hearing world in order to understand Rosemarie’s challenges.
          In the picture’s best scenes, the filmmakers address those challenges through sharp exchanges between Rosemarie and her concerned mother (Viveca Lindfors), who advises Rosemarie to embrace a marginalized lifestyle rather than risk emotional pain in the big, bad outside world. Unfortunately, this sort of interesting material is smothered by promising subplots that aren’t resolved in a satisfying manner; it’s as if the filmmakers can’t decide which path to follow. Furthermore, the arc involving Rosemarie’s dream of becoming a dancer pirouettes too far into the realm of contrived irony. And, much as it pains me to say this since I’m a fan of both men, the music composed by Jimmy Webb (the songwriter of “MacArthur Park”) and sung by Burton Cummings (of the Guess Who) doesn’t work. These two collectively give Ontkean’s character his voice, and their colorations are far too precious to spring forth from a Hoboken street kid trying to make it in grimy nightclubs. So while Voices isn’t a total wash by a long shot—it’s brisk and filled with sincere performances—the movie comes off like a sloppy rough draft. (Available at

Voices: FUNKY

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