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'Duet for One'

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 27, 1987


Andrei Konchalovsky
Julie Andrews;
Alan Bates;
Max von Sydow;
Rupert Everett
Under 17 restricted

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WHEN WE last met Julie Andrews, she was a self-effacing songstress who thought she was dying in "That's Life." Since then, the prognosis for both actress and character has worsened with Andrews as a terminal violin virtuoso in "Duet for One," a lugubrious adaptation of the award-winning British play.

As a self-pitying multiple sclerosis victim, Andrews again misguidedly dismantles her Poppins-fresh persona (intact even after hubby Blake Edwards bared her breasts in "S.O.B.") for a peevish new one. In this disheartening tearjerker, she plays Stephanie Anderson, who loses her career and her husband when crippled by disease.

But bitter, self-defeating Stephanie seems to deserve everything she gets. She's the antithesis of Debra Winger's character in "Terms of Endearment," who won our tears as she won our hearts. Winger's Emma was angry about dying, but she rose above it. In "Duet," Andrews makes for a mean-spirited Camille, a brittle heroine who never pays us back with a triumph of spirit. Instead, the arrogant artist becomes a mushy martyr.

Stephanie, flashing chest, frolics with the neighborhood scrap merchant (Liam Neeson), titillating him with sexy teases like: "You like me being a cripple, don't you? What's your favorite? Paraplegics?" Is this a turn-on or what?

Alan Bates, who must have given up acting for Lent, plays Anderson's husband David, an aging Lothario with bottle-black hair and ascot, who can't bear his wife's handicap. So our heroine packs him off to Bangladesh with his leggy secretary Penny (leggy Cathryn Harrison) and her "peach-shaped" kneecaps. When the pair return, Stephanie is happy to see Penny pregnant with David's baby. Go figure.

Suicide attempts, an encounter with Scrapman's wife -- "Duet" is a symphony in soap opera. Originally written for two players -- Stephanie and her crusty psychiatrist -- it still works best when Stephanie and therapist Max von Sydow are in session. Nevermind that he is a terrible therapist who starts hanging out with the violinist and her extended family, including the pregnant secretary and Stephanie's protege -- Rupert Everett wildly hamming it up as a cockney violinist who abandons his mentor for a $250,000-a-year job in Vegas where he will play "The Flight of the Bumblebee" over and over.

And if that weren't enough, and it is, Sigfrit Steiner comes back as the ghost of Stephanie's Polish accompanist in the dream sequences of this cockamamie oeuvre. Tom Kempinski revises his original work with cowriters Jeremy Lipp and Andrei Konchalovsky, the Russian who directed the surprise hit "Runaway Train." Here Konchalovsky's heavy-handedness and Muscovite schmaltz are all too apparent. -- Rita Kempley. DUET FOR ONE (R) -- Area theaters.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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