Patrick Stewart’s first post-Picard outing brings him back down to Earth – and wins the title of Unfortunately Appropriate Strapline of 2020. “Sometimes all you need is a little inspiration”, declare the promos for Life With Music (known in other territories as Coda). And, sadly, they’re not kidding.
Stewart is the immaculate and world famous concert pianist, Sir Henry Cole. The death of his wife some years back was so traumatic that he gave up playing in public to become a recluse but he’s tempted back onto the stage by the formidable combination of his canny manager Paul (Giancarlo Esposito) and his own eternal passion for music. But performing in front of an audience is close to torture: he sweats over his Steinway, has panic attacks and memory lapses, so he’s close to giving it up again when he meets journalist and music critic Helen (Katie Holmes), a former aspiring pianist who wants to interview him. She helps ease those anxieties and gives him the inspiration to stick with it.
That word again. “Inspiration”. To be fair on the film, it’s beautiful to look at – scenes in the Swiss Alps make the absolute most of their natural beauty – and everything is perfectly presented, which fits neatly with Stewart’s character. But it needs more than good looks to hold on to its audience and that, sadly, is where it falls down. The age difference between the two main characters points to a romance of the May to December variety, but this is a film with loftier ambitions, all about the mysteries of art and its place in our lives, be it intellectual or emotional. As the story’s narrator, Helen attempts to explain this but gets bogged down with language that sounds impressive but turns out to be annoyingly superficial.
She also has the irritating ability to pop up at just the right moment to save Henry from another panic attack, so the move towards a romance is inevitable. Except that we never see anything: it’s nudged to one side, although the scenes in Switzerland which run in parallel with the main narrative, give the distinct impression that whatever happened between them didn’t end especially well.
There’s a quiet elegance about Stewart’s performance and he’s ably supported by Breaking Bad’s ever dependable Esposito, but the result is a film which is short on inspiration and never reaches the heights it aspires to, cinematically, philosophically or, in truth, in any other department. Served with something chilled, it will probably go down well enough, but chances are that glass will contain something more substantial.
Drama, Romance | Cert: 12 | Blue Finch Film Releasing | Digital, 27 July 2020 | Dir. Claude Lalonde | Patrick Stewart, Katie Holmes, Giancarlo Esposito.