Film Review: Of All the Things

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AFI Fest

This affectionate but sharp-eyed documentary takes its name from a track on songwriter Dennis Lambert's only solo album, "Bags & Things." The 1972 release went unnoticed stateside but made him a hero in the Philippines, where the love tune "Of All the Things" became a kind of anthem for a nation of sentimental romantics.

With intimacy and a gentle sense of irony, the film chronicles a brief and unlikely return to showbiz. A selection of AFI Fest's Documentary Competition, "Things" has an irresistible, down-to-earth charm and should find welcoming audiences on the festival circuit and the small screen.

In 2007, encouraged by his family, Lambert gave in to a persistent Philippine promoter's requests and embarked on his first tour as a solo artist. Stepping away from his work selling luxury real estate in Boca Raton, Fla., the 60-year-old co-headlined with Paul Williams (seen only briefly here) on the two-week Great American Songwriters Series. His son, first-time filmmaker Jody Lambert, accompanied him on the trek, which culminated in a sold-out Valentine's Day show at the Araneta Coliseum, the venue that hosted the Thrilla in Manila.

The film is in part a tribute to the craft of mainstream, cross-genre songwriting. As a kid, Lambert was a pudgy crooner at Borscht Belt resorts, and by the time he was in his 20s he was an ace hitmaker, with songwriting/producing partner Brian Potter, for artists including Glen Campbell and the Four Tops. (His comments about working with the Tops' Levi Stubbs are all the more poignant so soon after the baritone's death.) The chart highlights included "Ain't No Woman (Like the One I've Got)," "One Tin Soldier," "It Only Takes a Minute" and, to Lambert's good-natured chagrin, "We Built This City," which Blender magazine named the all-time worst single.

Lambert's resilience and sense of humor are evident not only in the face of technical gaffes on the tour but in the way he moved on to a second career after headlines and awards gave way to the blood-chilling "Would I know you?" In the Philippines, though, he's a star.

But the director has constructed more than a loving memento. Haines Hall's smart editing helps to key in on culture-clash absurdities, sweet and bitter: Lambert, delighted and nonplussed, being feted on the hyperkinetic variety show "Wowowee" and, later, discussing multimillion-dollar properties via cell phone while his tour bus passes a hillside of primitive shacks.

Production: A Shot Clock production. With: Dennis Lambert, Jody Lambert, Tina Lambert, Misha Lambert.
Director: Jody Lambert.
Executive producers: Joel and Suzi Wilson.
Producer: Taylor Williams.
Director of photography: P.H. O'Brien.
Editor: Haines Hall.
No MPAA rating, 82 minutes
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