Movie Review: A couple that couplets, and sings their “Ode to Passion”

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“Ode to Passion” — the title bespeaks heightened romance, lofty ambition and poesy. And in Jack Danani’s musical with rhyming dialogue, that’s truth in advertising.

There’s something more than a little mad in trying to tell a modern romance, in New York, with swooning “love at first sight,” pretty creatives spending all their time on love (and not creating), and “partying” just short of addiction, in verse.

But if writer/director/lyricist/composer Danani was worried about how it would come off, and with that title, a film straddling that middle ground between pretentious and cornball, the picture doesn’t let on. It’s as self-aware as a blind narcissist.

What one realizes, damned quickly I have to say, is that when you’re hearing a show in verse and the verse isn’t clever or funny or fun or Shakespeare (aka “good for you”), that’s a device that grates.

And when, 15 minutes in, the verse blends into a forgettable “I Met a Girl/I Met A Guy” song, the first of many which will be forgotten over the 2:05 running time of the picture, you know you’re in trouble.

He’s a young writer. She’s an aspiring actress. He’s pals with with a priest (Al Pagano). She likes to paint the town red, with a nice dusting of snow — Cocaine, you silly. It’ll never work out.

The pleasantly bland (thin-voiced) leads — Giuseppe Bausilio, Julia Nightingale —  court and couplet away, and sing when the need arises. But the romance fails to take flight, the conflicts fail to engage, the obstacles to love necessary in such romances neither surprise nor come off as anything other than contrived.

And…those…rhymes — archaic, stilted, purplish nonsense, “inane” by any other name.

“So much to saaaay, but where to start…

“It matters not, just speak your heart.”

On her first magical moments with Michael (Bausilio), Sarah (Nightingale) ticks off a quick CV of likes and dislikes.

“DaVinci, shockingly ahead of his time, ‘Pretty Woman,’ I forget the line…”

I mouth a slow, gobsmacked and profane question, in the form of an acronym — W.T.F?

But seriously, why use a look, a gesture, a light in the eyes to touch the heart or make a cogent point when 216 words will do? I mean, who cares that film is a visual medium?

The glossy sheen this one puts on New York — parks by day, tony bars and MGM streetlights by night — never lets us forget “There isn’t much going on here but rhyming.”

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There’s a girls’ night out number carried off by Victoria Meade, who has the meatiest singing voice in the cast, and plays the “bad girl” vamp as if it started as a hobby. Build a movie around her, her character, not the colorless characters and those cast to play the characters.

The intentions weren’t bad, just misguided. And a lot of effort shows, even if interest in the gimmick dies an early but lingering death.

The ambition of it all is daunting. But of “Ode to Passion” — ugh, that title — is “form over substance” at its most elementary. And that form…

1half-star

MPAA Rating:

Cast: Giuseppe Bausilio, Julia Nightingale, Jeff Smith, Victoria Meade, Al Pagano and Marcus Harmon.

Credits: Written, directed and scored by Jack Danani. A Jack Danini Productions release.

Running time: 2:05

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