While this geriatric romance is too simplistic and sentimental to be anything remarkable, its lively central performances add some badly needed subtext and make the film worth a look. Meanwhile, the supporting cast add some spark to their scenes, elevating the warm, silly drama with quirky humour and some more resonant themes. It's also remarkably honest about how it feels to grow older.
Set in New Orleans, the story starts as 80-year-old Fred (Christopher Plummer) is moved by his hyperactive daughter Lydia (Marcia Gay Harden) into a small apartment building. Fred's wife has recently died, but they didn't get along very well, so he's enjoying being on his own. Although Lydia's husband (Chris Noth) has yet another crazy business scheme he wants Fred to invest in. And his new next door neighbour is Elsa (Shirley MacLaine), a larger-than-life 74-year-old who claims to have once known Picasso. Her son Raymond (Scott Bakula) looks in on her from time to time, while she secretly supports her younger son Alec (Reg Rogers) in his artistic career. She also immediately starts trying to coax Fred out of his shell.
Obviously, the main idea is that you're never too old to fall in love, so director-cowriter Michael Radford (Il Postino) tries to balance a comedy about ageing with a sweet love story about an engagingly mismatched couple. The blend of genres is somewhat uneven, as the script never quite decides whether it's about making the most of the time you have left, being open to unexpected romance or accepting your family members for who they are. All of these big themes are in here, most with a fairly heavy-handed touch. But at least this means that the film is about more than just a bunch of goofy characters interacting in rather silly ways.
Continue reading: Elsa & Fred Review
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