If nothing else, Robert Edwards’ indie drama One More Time gives Christopher Walken a chance to be a song-and-dance man again. As aging pop crooner Paul Lombard, Walken sings like Frank Sinatra, and even does the occasional soft shuffle, though his character mostly just performs for his family. Taking place over the course of a few weeks in the Hamptons, One More Time follows Paul as he gathers his grown daughters to tell them all about his new song, “When I Live My Life Over Again,” which he expects to be his “New York, New York”—a signature number, unexpectedly storming the charts late in his life. He’s a charismatic, doggedly optimistic fellow, this Paul Lombard. He’s a guy so wrapped up in telling funny stories and corny jokes that at times he seems oblivious to how his career and personal life are collapsing all around him.
It’s too bad that Paul’s not One More Time’s protagonist. The movie’s really about his daughter Jude (played by Amber Heard), a struggling professional singer who resents nearly everything about her dad: his success, his many affairs, and his inattentiveness to what has been a lifetime of problems for her. And Jude’s anger isn’t limited to one person. She also hates her sister, Corinne (Kelli Garner), who’s always been her family’s golden girl, and even got married to a boy Jude once liked, Tim (Hamish Linklater). And she can’t stand her possibly gold-digging stepmother Lucille (Ann Magnuson), whom she’s dubbed “Lucifer.” Jude has a “Mean People Suck” sticker on her car, but she’s scratched out the “Mean,” less anyone mistake her for a softie.
Frankly, Jude’s not that much fun to spend an hour and a half with. The problem’s not that she’s a handful, but that she’s a clichéd handful. She’s having an affair with a married man (who’s also her therapist); she subconsciously sabotages every opportunity that her dad’s manager Alan (Oliver Platt) sets up for her; and she’s so pedantic about her music that she constantly has to remind Paul that her former band, Pussy Fart, was “post-punk,” not “punk.” She’s not even as amused as she should be about the way her father says “The Flaming Lips,” putting the emphasis on the wrong word. Instead, she keeps correcting him. And audiences are suppose to care whether this annoying grouch gets her life together by the closing credits?
Edwards’ script feels out-of-balance in general, beyond its focus on his least-likable character. Roughly the first hour of One More Time is structured like a one-act play, revealing the Lombard family’ histories and interpersonal dynamics by putting them all under the same roof. But then there’s a lurching, fairly preposterous plot twist in the film’s final third that awkwardly expands the location and scope, while distracting from the simpler story of a famous man’s broken relationship with his daughter.
Yet One More Time is still easier to watch than a lot of the myriad other indie dramas about dysfunctional families, for a couple of reasons. For one, while Edwards does lose control of his larger narrative, he compensates by dotting the film with well-observed, well-acted little vignettes. The nicest scene is one of the shortest, with Corinne singing “Something Stupid” softly to herself in her car, the day after her sister and father did an impromptu duet of that song in his living room. That one moment humanizes Corinne, and reveals much more about her own problems with Paul than any of Jude’s “I’m mad about all the birthday parties you missed!” rants.
The main reason for anyone to see One More Time, though, is Walken, who brings a lot of life and fine shading to what could’ve been a one-note deadbeat dad type. Some of that’s due to Edwards, who includes telling little bits of business—like the brief shot of Paul editing his own Wikipedia page. But only Walken could bring the proper panache to a line like, “I know how you feel about the Dalai Lama. To me he’s just a guy. What does he know about show business?” His character’s so good that someone should make a movie about him.