Mr. Williams is a cog in the public works department of county hall in 1950s London. He’s a buttoned-up fellow, always at a quiet remove from the employees under him, who, in turn, refer to him as ‘Mr. Zombie’ for his listless shuffle and seeming apathy.
A terminal diagnosis shakes Mr. Williams (Bill Nighy) out of his stupor. With only six months to live, Mr. Williams realizes he hasn’t truly been living in quite some time, nor does he know how to now that the countdown’s on. Raised to be the very embodiment of a stiff upper lip, the epitome of repression, Mr. Williams finds it impossible to dissolve the barriers between his son and himself, so he confides instead in virtual strangers. He’s not looking for happiness or personal satisfaction or the meaning of life. He only wants to make some small mark that will remain after he’s gone, a reason worthy of remembrance.
Director Oliver Hermanus adapts Living from 1952’s Ikiru and makes it something so redolent of a certain time and place, a certain way of life, that we instinctively understand much about our Mr. Williams without being told. It helps that the legendary Bill Nighy takes up the lead role, contemplating life and death and the very humble space occupying the in-between.
The film feels poorly constructed, its unusual structure not quite working as it should, the chapters and scenes weighted haphazardly and knitted together without much thought to the whole. And yet I quite enjoyed Living, thanks largely to Nighy’s stellar performance. He reins in his trademark quirks and easy charm for something much more subtle. Mr. Williams may not be a zombie, but he’s almost a ghost even before he’s dead. Funny how an expiry date suddenly makes life feel so much more vital and urgent. His performances overcomes flaws in the filmmaking and I’m certain Living will find a special place in British hearts. Living doesn’t improve upon the original, but it holds its own and gives national treasure Nighy a role to be remembered by.
Free hugs. Free hugs for everyone, because I regret to inform you: you’re absolutely going to need them.
The Father is unintentionally the perfect film to have released during a global pandemic which has meant many things to many people, but has put a particular emphasis and burden on caregivers. Sean lost his Granny last spring; though her death certificate doesn’t state COVID as the cause of death, hers is one of many likely hastened by mandatory isolation (not that she was alone: she received wonderful care at her residence, but these have been lonely times, and particularly hard on people living with dementia). My own grandparents moved into a nursing home for the first time not many months ago, my mother unable to cope as their sole carer any longer. My grandfather’s failing health has meant he’s in and out of the hospital quite frequently, and must always be quarantined upon his return. He’s in the hospital right now, in fact, unable to return to his residence which is suffering an outbreak of a variant. His hospital bed is not far from the one in which his younger brother died last week, yet he was unable to go to him for one last goodbye. But it’s his wife, my grandmother, who suffers from dementia, and my mother who has to tell and retell all this news to her, news of a constantly changing world and its new and evolving rules which many of us hardly keep pace with ourselves. My mother’s only break has been courtesy of her own mandatory quarantine, having also been exposed to the variant at their residence.
The Father is a duet between father and daughter; the experience of dementia from both the victim’s perspective, and the caregiver’s. It is impossible to say who suffers more. Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) is a charming and vibrant old guy who values his independence even though daughter Anne (Olivia Coleman) judges it no longer sustainable. Anthony is defiant in the face of the carers she presents, resents even their implication, though both the script and Florian Zeller’s direction make their necessity abundantly clear to us. Anthony confuses people, names, faces, conversations, places, time, reality, even his own identity.
The film is of course extremely empathetic to Anthony’s plight, but it allows us to truly know this character, and perhaps even the disease, by donning his slippers and showing the truth, warts and all. As his world tilts and blurs, Anthony reacts variously, sometimes sad and scared, sometimes angry and aggressive. We see him self-possessed one moment, asserting his role as homeowner and head of household, and completely depleted the next, sobbing and unsure. It’s heartbreaking, not just to see a man reduced to such disparate elements, but because so many of us can easily recognize our own loved ones in this man, in his simple needs, his volatile moods, his disappearing self. Anthony Hopkins is doing incredible work in this film. He’s no spring chicken himself, but he’s in complete command, a psychological/emotional contortionist. Give him all the awards.
Caregiver Anne is living in her own hell. Since her father can’t remember one conversation to the next, nor even parse one sentence after the other, reasoning with him and negotiating with him are completely off the table. Often unable to even recognize her, he’s certainly not able to appreciate that these tough decisions are for his own good, his safety, his well-being, and her peace of mind. She has clearly sacrificed much of herself to be his carer for as long as she has, and it is a mostly thankless job, Anthony’s twisted mind more likely to be suspicious or critical than to recognize the time and patience expended on his behalf. He is not a bad person, just a sick one, and his daughter is losing him bit by bit, disguising her grief even though it’s happening right in front of him, as he lives and breathes. Coleman is of course absolutely fantastic, a portrait of anguish under a mask of affection. But Anne isn’t a saint, she’s just doing her best under complex circumstances, and with less support than she deserves.
The film is as ruthless as the disease it describes; it will break your heart. It reminds us not just of dementia’s devastation, but of its humanity. The Father is a damn fine piece of cinema.
Al Hart (Chevy Chase) is a retired showbiz manager touring the local senior living facilities with his granddaughter and frankly, he’s just not feeling it. He’s not ready for death’s waiting room. So when his retirement home tour guide happens to be his first client, Buddy Green (Richard Dreyfuss), it seems kind of fortuitous. Buddy is a stand-up comedian who quit the business 50 years ago, just as he was about to break on Johnny Carson. He went into podiatry instead. But with nothing to lose, and nothing better to do, the two concoct a scheme to hit the road and work the comedy club circuit to see if they can mount a comeback that’s been 50 years in the making.
The jokes are as old as the stars delivering them. The formula’s as stale as the butterscotch candies in their pockets. But Chevy Chase and Richard Dreyfuss prove the point their characters are trying to make: there’s still some gas left in the tank. Chase is charming in a doddering kind of way, but Dreyfuss still has that killer zing. If Buddy’s stand-up isn’t exactly fresh, Dreyfuss at least delivers it with some salty panache. They’re the ones who sell the material. And since neither has had a notable starring role in a film this century, it’s kind of nice to see some friendly, if wrinkly, faces.
Still, no one’s going to mistake this for a great movie. It’s on the forgettable side even while you’re watching it, so if memory’s the first thing to go, we’re in trouble. But if you’re looking for some “easy watching” and you don’t mind an oldies station, this movie is the perfect antidote to loud, explody, VFX-heavy blockbusters. Plus it’s got Andie MacDowell, Chris Parnell, and Lewis Black in small doses, so you can’t go wrong exactly, you just wish for more right. But I guess past a certain age, we all take what we can get.
Ruth is confused a lot of the time, most of the time. Some days she wakes up not knowing who the old man in her bed is, determined to get home to her mother and father, who must be worried. The old man in her bed is Burt, her husband of many years. She’s his girl and he can’t stand being separated from her, so he keeps her at home despite it not being what’s best for either of them at this point.
One Christmas Eve, Bridget (Hilary Swank) gets a phone call from her brother Nick (Michael Shannon). Their mother (Blythe Danner) has left home in the middle of the night and their father (Robert Forster) can’t find her. Anywhere. In California, Bridget is dealing with her own empty nest, estranged daughter, and failing marriage, but she’s been insulated from the problems with her father, who’s recently had a heart attack, and her mother, whose Alzheimer’s is only getting worse. It’s Nick who’s been dealing with them in Chicago and now he wants and needs her support in getting Ruth into a memory care facility – a suggestion he knows Ruth can’t consent to, and Burt will oppose vehemently.
What They Had is a tender movie about memory and family, and what it means to lose a loved one in increments. There’s no one in this family you can’t relate to, and it’s painful to watch them fail to unite, even in their grief. They are all, in fact, playing for the same time: each wants Ruth to be cared for. Burt think she should be cared for by the man who has spent a lifetime loving her, even though no single person can provide the round-the-clock care she requires. Nick worries that Burt caring for Ruth puts them both in danger, and is eager for professionals to take over and give him some respite. Bridget wants to avoid conflict and plays both sides, unwilling to see her mother neglected or her father alone. This is a choice that many families will face, and the film reflects our pain and reluctance so clearly it can be hard to watch.
Throuh it all, Blythe Danner shines her light. Ruth may not have her memory, or even a stable sense of self, but Danner always shows her humanity and her dignity, and even glimmers of humour and comfort. Robert Forster is wonderful, gruff and gentle, unwilling to let go of the love of his life. He is the movie’s anchor, and his family’s anchor, though not always a benevolent one. Is he a bit of a bully? Certainly he continues to treat his children like father knows best, and the dynamics are accordingly unhealthy. Bridget spins her wheels of indecision and Nick internalizes his anger. Shannon is terrific, as always, a kooky, rude, intemperate git who feels like everyone’s pain in the ass brother.
The film gives you permission to laugh. It feels uncharitable to do that with someone who has reduced capacity, but sometimes the jams Ruth gets herself into are quite funny. And sometimes they’re so egregious all you can do is laugh. Laugh or cry – and this movie will have you do both.
Four smart and accomplished ladies have a friendly book club to “stimulate their minds.” But this month, frisky businesswoman Vivian (Jane Fonda) is suggesting Fifty Shades of Grey, which promises to stimulate something else. Sharon (Candice Bergen), a judge and voice of reason doubts it even qualifies as a book, but she is overruled and pretty soon they, along with Diane (Diane Keaton), recently widowed, and Carol (Mary Steenburgen), the only one who is happily married (or married at all, I suppose) are actually reading this month’s selection, which is apparently a pretty rare thing (sorry, Wild).
Fifty Shades of Grey offends me on many levels. Likely not on a prurient one. I can’t be sure though, since I’ve never read it. It offends me because it started out as porn fan fiction about Twilight, which is a book that already offends me for infantilizing literature. But fan fiction should likely stay in the darkest corners of the internet, where it belongs. Instead, easily titillated people with low standards encouraged the author to change the names and publish it as a “book,” which I avoided on principle. Ditto when the movie(s) came out, and you know there aren’t many I miss reviewing, even the stinkers.
When I first heard about this one, I loved it immediately for the terrific ensemble cast, but I was really disappointed about the subject of their book club. I think older women, and indeed all women, should be free to explore and own their sexuality, but it’s insulting and belittling that it’s come to this. Luckily, the toxic erotica is only the jumping off point, followed by a pretty harmless rom-com. Not a great one, but thanks to fabulous leading ladies, it can’t go completely wrong can it?
And it’s sort of nice to see these ladies getting to live, getting to flirt and travel and nurture friendships, getting to be things others than mothers and grandmothers, which are wonderful things of course but not the only thing. Aging is a sin in Hollywood, and women over 40 are largely viewed by the camera’s lens as sexless. Producers routinely cast young actresses in “old” roles (ie, a 28 year old Angelina Jolie playing 27 year old Colin Farrell’s mother). The year Meryl Streep turned 40 she was offered THREE different roles for a witch. In The First Wives Club, Goldie Hawn’s character explains “There are only three ages for women in Hollywood; ‘Babe’, ‘District Attorney’, and ‘Driving Ms. Daisy.'” In real life, women continue to be interesting, complex human beings at every age, and the stories we tell should reflect that. Book Club is not the answer we really need; it feels more like an extended sitcom episode. But I won’t deny that Bergen, Keaton, Steenburgen, and Fonda are thrilling to watch; they remain magnetic as ever. If I have to put up with a “lethargic pussy” joke I will, but I will continue to hope for better next time. Like maybe a little less glaring whiteness, for starters.
Nate, a prize-winning playwright, has been writing his most recent play for the last four years. When his wife leaves him, taking his adorable son and his ability to pay rent with her, he’s forced to do the thing he’s always sworn he’d never do – move in with his father, who lives in a retirement community called Cranberry Bog.
Of course, Bob (Elliott Gould) thinks his son is a lazy, stagnant fool who’s wasting his Harvard education, so he puts him to work fluffing and folding towels in the Cranberry Bog laundry. And Nate’s talents are further wasted by producing a portion of a musical number with the local community players, ie, old ladies who are unequal parts cranky and horny. Nate (Jemaine Clement) would like to reconnect with his father, but the two have been distant since the death of Nate’s mother – and he was always closest to her. Other people think Bob is very funny, but since his answers to all of Nate’s very serious questions are always jokes, the two men remain separate in their grief.
I have loved Clement since his days on Flight of the Conchords. His performance in Humor Me is more grounded in reality than usual, infusing this sad-sack with some quirks and personality tics that give Nate some real warmth. Of course, I have loved Elliott Gould for much, much longer, and his diverse professional background is evident in every line, not all of which are truly worthy of him, but he never lets them down. In fact, I’d say the casting and performances in this film are its greatest asset. Ingrid Michaelson, Maria Dizzia, Priscilla Lopez, Joey Slotnick, Willie Carpenter, Le Clanché du Rant, Rosemary Prinz, Annie Potts, and Bebe Neuwirth fill in the gaps between Bob and Nate, creating a living, breathing community not easily conveyed through film.
Humor Me manages a delicate balance that often errs on the side of comedy. It’s light, and if it’s not exactly fresh, it has a lot of talent backing up the retreads.
Humor Me is screening at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival tonight, 8pm, at the Cineplex Cinemas Empress Walk 5, and May 10, 9pm, at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. Check it out, and bring your dad.
Lucky is an old man, a washed up cowboy who’s living out his remaining years in a small town where his routine means everything to him: a daily glass of milk, some exercise, coffee and crosswords at the local diner, devotion to his game shows. Just because he’s alone doesn’t mean he’s lonely. But then a brush with his mortality reminds him that death comes for all of us, and he starts reevaluating a thing or two.
We missed seeing Lucky at SXSW this year; our schedule was packed and we had to choose between several old-guy movies (we ended up seeing The Hero and The Ballad of Lefty Brown). We can’t regret seeing either of those movies, both are good, but there is one mitigating factor. Harry Dean Stanton, star of Lucky, died last month at the age of 91. And there is, I believe, a difference between watching an old man come to grips with his age and death’s proximity, and watching a man who we know was actually met his maker be confronted with his expiration date on screen and admit to us all that he is scared. Oof.
How does a 90 year old atheist feel about death’s encroachment? You’ll see it all on Stanton’s face. The years have visibly burdened him, he walks with a heavy but purposeful gait, his shoulders sloping under the effects of time and the weight of the unknown. And though he makes various connections, a surprisingly diverse variety of connections for a man of his generation, we’re very much aware that in the end, everyone dies alone. This film has moments of genuine warmth and delight, but it’ll also make you feel his emptiness, his isolation, his fear. And if that’s not enough to completely gut you, director John Carroll Lynch wrenches the very last drops of our humanity from us with the help of my favouritest favourite Johnny Cash song. So you just can’t help be hollowed out. But Lucky also fills you up. The script accounts for more than a few quirky characters, but it’s Lucky’s persistence and courage that fill us up with hope.
There aren’t enough words to say what a great performance we have here from Stanton. It’s superb. Lucky isn’t the talkiest of fellows but Stanton delivers a meditation on mortality that is the perfect legacy to his lengthy career. He’s magnetic. And we’re all a little luckier having seen this film.
Jackie (Robert DeNiro) played a beloved sitcom character at the very beginning of his career, and it seems his fans only want to remember him for that one thing. He’s a stand-up comic now, desperate to rebrand himself, but audiences turn nasty the further he pulls away from his more iconic stuff. So in the style of hot-headed comedians, he allows a heckling fan to draw him into a fight, and of course it’s Jackie who winds up sentenced to community service (among other things).
At the soup kitchen, he meets fellow assaulter Harmony (Leslie Mann), an otherwise docile woman who is pushed to do violence when she finds her man in bed with another woman. This unlikely pair bonds over their mutual sentence, and agree to do each other a solid: she’ll attend his niece’s wedding with him – he owes money to his brother (Danny DeVito) and his sister-in-law (Patti LuPone) never quits breaking his balls – and he’ll attend a birthday dinner for her disapproving father (Harvey Keitel).
After decades as an insult comic, Jackie is looking to reinvent himself, but the people in his life keep him from doing so. DeNiro trained with real-life comic Jessica Kirson, who also appears in the movie. DeNiro adopts one of her signature moves, in which she whispers to herself while turned away from the audience. Lots of other comedians lend an air of authenticity to Jackie’s world: Brett Butler, Billy Crystal, Jim Norton, Gilbert Gottfried, Hannibal Buress, and more. Unfortunately, the comedy is just about all this movie gets right. I’m not even sure what kind of movie it’s supposed to be: some sort of May-December rom-com? Aging comedian comes of age? Light social commentary?
It doesn’t matter because it doesn’t work on any level. It feels dated, immediately. Cringe-worthy at times. It’s bloated, meandering, and has some pretty bizarre and inexplicable subplots over which I’m still scratching my head. It’s misguided. It’s tired. It has its charming moments but then there’s also a song about poop so I’m just not in a forgiving mood. DeNiro’s choices lately are a betrayal to his talent. Remember him as he was, not as he appears in this stinker.
This movie is about a couple of charming runaways on the lam. They haven’t committed any crimes but they’re keen to evade the responsibilities that weigh on them at home. We’ve seen lots of movies about people on the open road, but we’ve rarely seen a man beleaguered by Alzheimer’s helming a large winnebago while his cancer-stricken wife navigates and their adult children are panicking at home.
Ella (Helen Mirren) should be in the hospital receiving treatment, but instead she’s choosing this one last hurrah before Alzheimer’s has her husband John (Donald Sutherland) completely within its clutches. The Leisure Seeker is the name of their beloved RV, and this road trip is designed to trigger memories of happier times – their young family at play, their former selves in love. It’s obvious that the ‘in love’ part has never really faded for Ella and John, and maybe this is why it’s so hard for her to cope when he can’t remember who she is.
The pair hit the interstate armed with pecan logs, slides of old photos, and yes, a gun. This film is a moving eulogy to all the things that are slipping away – not just for John and Ella personally, but also perhaps on a more national scale (like a sense of community for one – though attempts to be any more political feel out of place). But as John’s moments of lucidity grow shorter and Ella’s anguish grows deeper. The Leisure Seeker is pointed toward Florida but we can’t deny what they’re truly headed for.
Mirren and Sutherland make the movie of course – the camera rarely strays from this couple so strongly bonded they can’t even bear to sleep in separate beds. Sutherland spins the dial on the many shades of dementia, his face quietly registering all of them. Mirren wears a cheerful mask but Ella’s pain and smouldering anger never disappear completely. This Brit and her Canadian costar make watching this American road trip movie worth while – even if their Italian director doesn’t quite get it right. The acting, however, is everything, and the casting is spot-on even if Mirren is inconsistent with her southern accent. Just as we’re meeting them, they’re getting ready to say their goodbyes. This is a bittersweet journey, and you’re welcome to tag along. You can leave your gun at home, but do pack some tissues.
Actor-comedian Patton Oswalt lost his wife suddenly in April 2016. He was very vocal in his grief following her death so it took people by surprise when he announced his engagement barely a year later. Some were critical. I, however, wish him nothing but the best, and I’d wish the same for Sean if he were ever in the same spot. I know a little about love and grief, and how they are not mutually exclusive. I’d also never want Sean to feel lonely.
That’s how Louis (Robert Redford) and Addie (Jane Fonda) are feeling when we first meet them – lonely. Both of their spouses are long dead and they’ve each been leading pretty solitary existences up until Addie gets up the courage to ring Louis’s doorbell and invites herself in for a chat and a little proposal. Why not sleep together, she suggests. No, not sex. Sex doesn’t interest her. But the nights are long. Very long. Couldn’t they come to some arrangement? After thinking on it, he agrees, so off he goes in his best blue plaid shirt, to have a platonic sleepover with a neighbour he’s lived alongside for decades but never really known.
I’m often critical about movies starring senior citizens. So many feel demeaning, unworthy of their subjects, but I must admit, this new one from Netflix feels invigorating and authentic. Addie clearly has agency. They both have plenty to offer. Of course they’re not immune to aging but they’re also not done living, and that was fantastic to see on the big screen.
Jane Fonda and Robert Redford both accepted Lifetime Achievement awards here at the Venice Film Festival, in a ceremony preceding the screening of their new film. They’ve co-starred in movies before: The Chase (1966), Barefoot in the Park (1967), and The Electric Horseman (1979); this is their first in 38 years. To mark the occasion, Fonda said “It was fun to kiss him in my 20s and then to kiss him again in my almost-80s.” I have to say, it was fun for the audience, too. Yes, it’s great to see mature faces getting meaty roles, but you’re also getting a masterclass in acting. These two make it look easy. Their chemistry feels effortless.
Of course, if you’re looking for classic, cheesy romance, this isn’t it. Louis and Addie are too wise for that. They have responsibilities, baggage, obligations. Kent Haruf, who wrote the novel upon which this film is based, knew a little about that. He wrote his book under a death sentence: he was 71, and he finished it just months before he died of lung cancer. The novel was published posthumously, so Louis and Addie are his legacy. Fonda and Redford would have made him proud.
This is an excellent movie from Netflix that will be available for streaming later this month.