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Sing Now or Forever Hold Your Peace (A Movie Review)


Starring David Alan Basche, Chris Bowers, Samrat Chakrabarti, Alexander Chaplin, Rosemarie Dewitt, Mark Feuerstein, David Harbour, Elizabeth Reaser, Reg Rogers, Molly Shannon, Liz Stauber and Camilla Thorsson.

Screenplay by Bruce Leddy.

Directed by Bruce Leddy.

Distributed by Strand Releasing. 94 minutes. Not Rated.

Mid-life crisis hits hard on Sing Now or Forever Hold Your Peace. In the movie, a bunch of college friends try hard to deal with life and their age fifteen years after graduation.

These guys are still living in the past. Of course, these glory days are not exactly what most people would define as glorious. After all, these guys' triumphant past was in school when they were big stars on campus as an a capella vocal group.

Most of us watching are thinking: What? Did they still have vocal groups in 1991? In the era of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” did anyone buy into these pseudo-barbershop quartets?

Of course, they are supposed to be a hip ensemble – they don’t do “Danny Boy” or “By the Light of the Silvery Moon.” They generally (but not always) perform more modern music. Still: hip is in the eye of the beholder. In this film, we hear vocal arrangements of songs by the likes of Phil Collins, John Mayer and Devo (covering Lee Dorsey.) Good tunes, mostly – granted – but hardly cutting-edge stuff.

The audience is put in the weird position of basically liking the guys but not quite understanding what all the navel-gazing is about.

Writer/Director Bruce Leddy had obviously seen The Big Chill often and taken notes. He does a not-bad job of updating that classic story here. Perhaps there is even a certain karmic payback to "borrowing" from The Big Chill, as that film was just a glossier Hollywood version of a then-recent John Sayles indie called The Return of the Secaucus Seven.

Sing Now is more blatantly trying to be comic but strangely is not nearly as funny as Chill – which benefited from much more interesting characters, a more natural camaraderie, and a sense of not having to try so hard.

Instead of a funeral for a friend, here it is the wedding of an old college chum which sparks this reunion. (Although reunion may be a bit of a stretch: it appears that with the exception of a friend who has moved to Los Angeles, they all have been seeing each other pretty regularly.)

That old chum (Mark Feuerstein) asks the guys to regroup to sing at his wedding. (How cheap is that? An a capella group at a wedding? How about a band or DJ, guy?) This return to their vocal glory days has the guys all trying to figure out where they have gone with their lives since college; all the while staying at the richest of their group’s family compound in the Hamptons.

All of the characters from The Big Chill literally have counterpoints here. The Kevin Kline/Glenn Close duo of the couple who is still in love after all these years is played here by David Harbour and Rosemarie DeWitt (Standoff). DeWitt in particular is terrific as a wife trying to pull her husband out of a weird, arrested development.

In the Jeff Goldblum role of lonely guy in a slimy job is Reg Rogers – actually very funny as a recently divorced lawyer who has reached three digits in days since sex. There is the single-and-handsome-but-slightly-disturbed friend (Chris Bauer) turning William Hurt’s character from a drug addicted war veteran into a more basically eccentric type – this guy walks the streets of New York dressed as death.

In the Tom Berenger-role of the friend who has gone Hollywood is David Alan Basche. There is even the Meg Tilly-type younger girl (Camilla Thorsson) who is just around to laugh at the ridiculous old guys and fuel their sexual fantasies. (Oh, yeah, and eventually sleep with one of them…)

Finally, there is the JoBeth Williams/Don Galloway tandem of the unhappily married, totally incompatible couple, here played by Alexander Chaplin (of Spin City – nice to see him again, even in a nothing role like this) and SNL alumni Molly Shannon. The film spends way too much time on these two, because frankly, we agree when he says that they shouldn’t be together.

It doesn’t help that they are by far the two most annoying characters. He’s an uptight prude. She’s a big-mouthed, emasculating, goofy bitch. Part of the bigger problem with this character is that Shannon seems to be acting in a totally different film than the rest of the very capable cast – they are trying to be serious and she’s trying to do a Superstar skit. It gets really grating.

Before the slightly awkward title that the film now sports, the movie was called Shut Up and Sing, which they apparently had to change when the Dixie Chicks documentary of the same name came out. Unfortunately, this original title occasionally is too fitting. We basically like these characters but sometimes we get tired of all their bitching.

(Editor's note: About a year after this review was originally written, the movie's title was changed yet again for video release, to the more generic The Wedding Weekend.)

Despite the characters' complaints otherwise, they seem to have pretty good lives. Most of them are well off, have reasonable jobs and beautiful women in their lives (the women in general are significantly prettier here than in The Big Chill, where only Williams was supposed to be a true beauty) who put up with all their foibles and their constantly obsessing about the past.

Unlike The Big Chill, though, Sing Now… has some rather awkward plot turns – meeting another singer in a jail, a last minute false-alarm that the wedding may be in danger and a long-simmering argument between the groom and the LA buddy which is never really resolved.

Even the music doesn’t keep up – in the old film, the friends partied and danced to classic Motown – here it is done to Tone Loc. The older film makes a subtle psychological point with The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” This one pounds home a rather obvious point using Ambrosia’s “Holding On To Yesterday.” (A song which was popular when these guys were about six – by the way…)

Still, even if Sing Now or Forever Hold Your Peace can’t hold up to the film that obviously inspired it, this is a fresh and mostly very likable cast telling a story worth seeing. (4/07)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2007 All rights reserved. Posted: April 9, 2007.


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