Despite paying homage to the beauty that is music, the lack of plot and uncomfortable characterisations is disappointing.
Life With Music is a film which presents just that: a musician’s complicated and distressing relationship with music following the death of his wife.
Pianist Henry Cole (Patrick Stewart) suffers with performance anxiety despite being a virtuoso. His characterisation is fantastic, and from the very beginning viewers are encouraged to sympathise with him even before knowing the dark reason behind his struggles. As he battles against the pressures inside his tormented mind, alongside his agent’s (Giancarlo Esposito) persistence to encourage him on, we watch him deteriorate into a state of reclusion as Cole continues to struggle. Up until this point, the film is intriguing enough with Stewart’s unparalleled acting and his fascinating relationship with the piano.
However, attention span starts to wade thin with the introduction Helen Morrison (Katie Holmes), a music critic who meets Cole after a recital where they start to develop a close bond between each other. It’s this relationship between Cole and Morrison that provides an unease tone, and not in a good way. As she’s clearly his inferior confessing her love for his work, it’s hard to understand why Cole is so drawn to her, other than an obsessed fan. This uncomfortable aspect to their relationship does not improve as the film continues; it gets worse. It’s seems as though it’s attempting to reverse the typical, patriarchal theme of man-saves-woman, but this idea lacks any execution and it comes off badly, no less, thanks to the casting of Holmes.
As Cole and Morrison get closer, it becomes more and more awkward. Morrison is significantly younger and makes no effort to hide her ‘fan-girl’ attitude over his work, which creates a disturbingly unbalanced connection. The narrative hints at a romantic relationship between the two but it’s difficult to work out whether this is deliberate or not. Certainly she believes it to be so, but there are little to no instances of Cole expressing genuine love towards her, outside of her role of “saving” him.
Unfortunately, it’s not just Morrison which makes this film so awkward. What Life With Music also fails to achieve is an intriguing plot. Even though the focus on Cole’s characterisation is handled very well, there are only a couple of points within the narrative that are intriguing enough to warrant viewers interest (it’s worth noting that all of these instances exclusively concern Cole). We see Cole and Morrison travel about to places, both together and separately, but this adds nothing to the over-arching story-line. Despite its homage to music, as a force which is both comforting and distressing, Life With Music fails to hit any memorable moments, and if it weren’t for Stewart, I would have likely switched off halfway given the choice. It just doesn’t hit the right note.
Life With Music, directed by Claude Lalonde, is distributed in the UK by Strike Media, certificate 12. It is available to rent via Amazon, iTunes, and other VOD platforms.