Sunday, 28 July 2013
When the lead actors in a film are Oscar winners Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn, you know this is going to be a film worth engaging with. The question is, what return will you get on your investment?
I guess there are two ways to watch this film. A way that gets it and a way that doesn't. If you watch this film and don't get it then you will be left feeling robbed and cheated and that you have just wasted 88 minutes watching a schmaltzy tale of two older folk going on a first date. If you do get it, you will applaud Director Nicholas Fackler (only 23 when he made this!) for his creativity, genius and gentle and affecting way in which he handles the subject. You'll want to watch it a second time to be able to read the story with the benefit of the hindsight that the ending brings.
IF YOU DON'T WANT TO HAVE THE STORY SPOILED STOP HERE. THIS FILM WILL HAVE MORE IMPACT IF YOU ALLOW ITS STORY TO WORK ON YOU BEFORE YOU KNOW HOW IT ENDS. YOU WILL WANT TO SEE IT A SECOND TIME ONCE YOU KNOW.
For most of the story (first 75 minutes) it appears to be a soppy and sentimental tale of two folk in older life finding love for the first time. The fact that the story is set just before Christmas and each shot is filled with twinkling lights and seasonal songs, adds to the schmaltziness and ramps up the investment of emotional capital that watching this film requires of the viewer.
Landau plays Robert Malone, an older man with a set daily routine who lives on his own and 'works' in the local supermarket. He is plagued, or even haunted by dreams depicted as ghostly dendrons and synapses attempting to link and create memories of an earlier, happier time. In the store all we see him doing is drawing on a notepad at a table and then offering the store manager Mike (Adam Scott) advice on various aspects of the retail trade. Robert seems as bemused as the Manager by the process. Sometimes Robert appears more lucid than others.
Having gone off to work and left his front door wide open, he returns to find Mary (Burstyn) in the house. She has just moved in opposite to live with her daughter Alex (Elizabeth Banks) and seeing his car impaling the garage door, claims she was just checking that he was okay. He reacts angrily and asks her to leave but he clams down and she asks him to take her out on a date. After hesitating Robert agrees and over the intervening 24 hours suffers the highs and lows of angst that any inexperienced teen anticipating a date experiences. This time it is Robert who seeks advice from Mike.
The date happens and is a success and over the course the next few days the couple spend more time together and grow closer together. As Robert crosses off the days on his calendar we often cut to Mary anxiously clutching a bottle of pills and counting them out - presumably to see if she has enough to get through the holiday season. Then one evening she accidentally drops them into a sink with a running tap and they disappear down the drain. She tries to get a replacement prescription but can't without a Doctor's authorisation - and the holidays have started. So begins a deterioration in Robert's behaviour, confidence and level of lucidity.
The pills were Robert's - he is battling Alzheimer's. Mary is his wife, Mike and Alex his children and Robert was the founder and original manager of the store which his son now runs and where he goes to spend each day as it is a familiar and safe place. Mary had moved in with Alex because it was getting too difficult to manage and the family didn't want to place Robert in a 'home'. With the medication and a renewed relationship, all had hoped that Robert might be winning the battle. Sadly Alzheimer's is a pernicious and obdurate adversary.
I've left some of the ending untold so there are still one or two twists for you to experience. This is a very clever film that deals with a difficult subject very creatively and with great warmth. Landau and Burstyn turn in incredible performances that will tug at your heart-strings. I guess that with an increasingly ageing population, this is yet another film amongst a growing number that portray what is the reality of older life for many.
Creative and brave cinema. Do please watch this film - probably twice. I'll give it 8.5/10. For me the return on my investment gave an expected and large bonus!