×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

American Harmony

An efficiently constructed and emotionally involving docu.

With:
With: Greg Clancy, Gary Lewis, Jeff Oxley, Tony DeRosa, Patrick Claypool, Sean Devine, Cory Hunt, Shawn York, Joseph Hunter Jr., Mark Paul, Roger Payne, John Ward, "Awesome Joe" Connelly.

Filmmaker Aengus James sympathetically captures the trills of victory and the agony of defeat at the Intl. Championships of Barbershop Singing in “American Harmony,” an efficiently constructed and emotionally involving docu with a sharp eye for revealing detail and a pleasing amount of low-key charm. Although it’s a long shot to attract a crossover aud during its ongoing limited theatrical rollout, the pic likely will be prized as homevid fare by those attuned to its subject matter.

Early scenes hit the right note of bemused curiosity as James takes viewers into the world of barbershop quartet competitions, a realm where much-awarded champs are treated like royalty — a vet of three different prize-winning ensembles is referred to, respectfully, as “Awesome Joe” Connelly — and even the jolliest of jokers admit to the intensity of their dedication to performing.

Without musical accompaniment, they sing songs ranging from Broadway show tunes to ’50s doo-wop classics to standards retrofitted with semi-satirical lyrics. But even when they’re playing for laughs, there’s no mistaking that they’re also playing for keeps.

“Look at us,” says one of four singers bedecked in what appear to be orange hazmat suits and Mexican wrestlers’ masks. “Does this look like it’s a casual hobby?”

Max Q, an all-star quartet of vets from past prize-winning groups, is introduced as the presumptive favorite at the 2005 finals in Salt Lake City. When they actually finish in second place, the four singers struggle to maintain their sang-froid, but they can’t quite hide their surprise and disappointment.

“American Harmony” follows Max Q and a handful of other quartets during the year or so before the next international finals, in Indianapolis. Despite the emphasis on team playing (and, of course, tight harmonies), two members of the group — seriously sincere Jeff Oxley, who could pass muster as Sylvester Stallone’s stunt double, and roly-poly Tony DeRosa — gradually emerge as the pic’s “stars.” Despite their vaunted reputations in their musical subculture, they wind up coming across as appealing underdogs.

Max Q’s main rivals are OC Times, a group of younger singers who freely admit to flirting with femme fans during performances, and Reveille, four middle-aged guys with colorful onstage shtick and costuming that reference their New York roots. Helmer James tactfully but effectively focuses on the offstage travails of Roger Payne, a Reveille singer who occasionally misses rehearsals because of his chemotherapy treatments for brain cancer. Because “American Harmony” is a documentary and not a scripted drama, this subplot doesn’t pay off with predictable emotional uplift.

The docu does little to satisfy curiosity about what James’ subjects do for a living when they’re not competitively harmonizing. (Pic makes a point of emphasizing that the competitions don’t award cash prizes, although winners may go on to profitably concertize.) Nor does the film tell us much about thousands of avid fans who flock to competitions.

Pic primarily is a showcase for spirited onstage performances and sometimes humorous, sometimes anxious backstage preparations. As such, it is frequently amusing, never condescending and almost always fascinating. Tech values are admirably polished.

Popular on Variety

American Harmony

Production: An Abramaroma release of a This Is Just a Test Prods. production. Produced by Aengus James, Colin King Miller. Executive producers, Gary DePew, Russ Squires. Co-producers, Grant Kahler, Tim Tracy. Co-executive producers, Lori Cheatle, Doug Block, Allan Webb. Directed by Aengus James.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), James, Stu Silverman, Chris Bradley, Jennifer Silbert; editors, Kate Amend, Grant Kahler; music, Adam Sanborne; sound, Brandon Davis, Doug Kochenback, Ward Lauer. Reviewed on DVD, Houston, Aug. 18, 2009. Running time: 85 MIN.

With: With: Greg Clancy, Gary Lewis, Jeff Oxley, Tony DeRosa, Patrick Claypool, Sean Devine, Cory Hunt, Shawn York, Joseph Hunter Jr., Mark Paul, Roger Payne, John Ward, "Awesome Joe" Connelly.

More Film

  • 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    Film Review: 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    In one of the intermittent revealing moments in “QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight,” a documentary about the films of Quentin Tarantino that’s like a familiar but tasty sundae for Quentin fans, we see Tarantino on the set of “Pulp Fiction,” shooting the iconic dance contest at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. As John Travolta and Uma [...]

  • Zombieland Double Tap

    Why Emma Stone Was Haunted by Fear of Vomiting While Shooting 'Zombieland: Double Tap'

    SPOILER ALERT: The following story contains a slight spoiler for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” The zombie slayers are back! Ten years after Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin first killed dead people walking in “Zombieland,” they’ve reunited for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” “You take stock of your life a little bit,” Stone says of [...]

  • Hereditary

    The Best Horror Films to Stream Right Now

    Good horror movies aren’t always easy to scare up, but with Halloween on the horizon, Variety has compiled a list of some of the best horror films available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. NETFLIX Apostle Cult horror meets religious hypocrisy in this creepy gothic thriller, which follows prodigal son Thomas Richardson, who returns home [...]

  • Brett Gelman

    'Stranger Things' Star Brett Gelman Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse'

    Brett Gelman, best known for his scene-stealing roles in “Fleabag,” “Stranger Things” and “Love,” has joined Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of Tom Clancy’s “Without Remorse.” Jamie Bell and Jodie Turner-Smith are also on board. Jordan is starring as operations officer John Clark, also known as John Terrence Kelly, a former Navy SEAL who [...]

  • US director Francis Ford Coppola holds

    Francis Ford Coppola Honored With Prestigious Lumiere Prize by Thierry Fremaux, Bong Joon Ho

    Francis Ford Coppola took the stage to claim the Lumière Festival’s lifetime achievement honor, the Lumière Prize, in a stirring celebration that marked the festival’s 10th edition on Friday night in Lyon, France. The four-time Academy Award winner accepted the prize after a series of video tributes, musical performances and testimonials from family, friends and [...]

  • 'Human Capital' Sells to Vertical Entertainment,

    Liev Schreiber, Maya Hawke's 'Human Capital' Sells Rights to DirecTV, Vertical Entertainment (EXCLUSIVE)

    Vertical Entertainment and DirecTV have jointly acquired the North American distribution rights to “Human Capital,” an official selection of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival from director Marc Meyers. The film stars Oscar winner Marisa Tomei, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, and Maya Hawke. The ensemble drama follows numerous interconnected stories surrounding a hit and run, [...]

  • Robert Zemeckis

    Robert Zemeckis in Talks to Direct Live-Action 'Pinocchio' for Disney (EXCLUSIVE)

    Robert Zemeckis is in early talks to direct Disney’s live-action “Pinocchio.” Andrew Miano and Chris Weitz will produce through their company Depth of Field with Weitz penning the script. “Paddington” director Paul King had originally been tapped to direct but had to leave the project for unknown reasons at the beginning of the year. David [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content