Elsa and Fred (opening today) may be rated PG-13, but it is meant mainly for the over 60 crowd. It isn’t too often these days that a romantic comedy comes along, where the two leads have a combined age of 165. But with age comes experience, and watching Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer fall in love on the big screen is worth more than the senior-rate price of admission. Shamefully, you wonder what these two legends might have done with better material.
MacLaine plays Elsa, an old woman living alone in an apartment, when recently widowed Fred (Plummer) moves in across the hall. Fred is a crusty old man, who we can tell still hasn’t recovered from the recent death of his wife, despite their rocky relationship. He is bothered by his daughter (Marcia Gay Harden) and her husband (Chris Noth), both of whom are trying to make sure Fred lives out the rest of his life in peace, but whom also seem to have some selfish motives. They push him to get out of the apartment and go walk in the park, while Fred wonders what all the fuss is about the damned park. Across the hall, Elsa’s son (Scott Bakula) is trying to take care of his mother, who is not only a rambunctious, rap-listening old broad, but who also seems to be a very irresponsible one. She charges up her son’s credit cards and generally seems to lie – or at least embellish – about nearly everything.
The rest doesn’t really matter. Elsa wanders over one day and meets Fred, and the two form a friendship, and then a love for one another. Fred needs to open himself up, and Elsa needs to come clean.
One story that Elsa tells Fred is her run in with the famous artist, Pablo Picasso, who she claims painted her one night. Even though Fred continuously asks her to produce the painting, she keeps telling him its in her safe. Because of all of the lies that Elsa is weaving, we’re meant to believe this is just another fabrication. Through their time together, Fred also learns that Elsa has a passionate love for the classic Fellini film, La Dolce Vita. She dreams of living out that famous scene from the film, where actress and actor Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroiani, get swept up in romantic love at the base of a beautiful fountain in Rome.
Much of Elsa and Fred feels lifted straight out of the rom-com handbook. Elsa lives life to the fullest and breathes new life into Fred, while Fred’s love and compassion for Elsa grounds her in a blissful reality. Much of the film deals with them realizing that they are meant for each other, and they realize it way after the audience does. Secrets are held by characters way longer than necessary, and simple conversations early on would alleviate most of the inter-character drama. Lifelong problems are wrapped up in 90 minutes or less. All of the supporting characters are cliches. Once again, the real strength here is in seeing Plummer and MacLaine do some great work with some pretty thin stuff.
But something about this film grows on you as you watch it. It is bright and happy, churning out tired messages like “it’s never too late for love.” We’ve seen this movie a hundred times, but it is the equivalency of comfort food.
Towards the end, this romantic comedy for old people turns into something more, a fantasy. Elsa and Fred live out their movie romance and we realize at that moment, that we are watching a movie, and that that’s OK. In fact, I’m glad that the optimistic love shown in the film Elsa and Fred exists somewhere, if not the real world, because it inspires people. And that too, is OK, to know that you’re never too old to dream and never to young to feel warm and fuzzy inside when watching old people fall in love.
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Run Time: 1 hour 34 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Shirley MacLaine, Christopher Plummer, Marcia Gay Harden, Scott Bakula, Chris Noth, George Segal, James Brolin, Wendell Pierce, Erika Alexander
Co-Written & Directed by Michael Radford (Flawless, The Merchant of Venice, Il Postino: The Postman)
Opens locally on Friday, Nov 7, 2014 (check for show times).
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How to read Tom Santilli’s “Star Ratings:”
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time