Director: Brett Haley
Writers: Brett Haley & Marc Basch
Cast: Blythe Danner, Martin Starr, Sam Elliott, June Squibb, Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place, Malin Åkerman.
Between this film, the Netflix sitcom Grace and Frankie, and the great arthouse film Youth, this has been a really good year for stories about people over the age of 70. When so often the roles focus on dying or, worse, relegate great actors to bit parts as a grandparent or a glorified cameo, it’s really refreshing to see these stories take center stage and have movies focus on the lives of people considered to be senior, in the literal sense, as in how they live and look forward.
This beautiful and quiet little film focuses on Carol (played perfectly by Blythe Danner), a widow who loses her dog in the first few moments after the beginning credits. Carol’s life is quite routine, as she coasts through her daily errands and spends her time playing cards and gossiping with her close friends (funny turns by the awesome Squibb, Perlman and Place).
Carol begins to shake things up though after striking up a friendship with her pool boy (Martin Starr) and meeting a distinguished and intriguing new man (Sam Elliott). While the film is strictly focused on Carol, it’s these two relationships that awaken her and allow for some soul searching and are the agents of change for her. Starr, as Lloyd is particularly impressive. For the majority of his career the actor has played the awkward and weird man child, mostly in Judd Apatow productions, and thus I’ve always dismissed him as being employable solely due to his friendships, but sorely lacking in any talent. After this film I now have a new perspective on him, as he shows an ability to tap into an ability to make one really feel for his character and plays Lloyd uncharacteristically restrained. Elliott, as Carol’s paramour Bill, is much more of an archetypal figure and not a big stretch for the actor, but in this context he is still a nice addition to the story.
While the movie has a hard time not falling into cliché and sometimes is too earnest for its own good, it is mostly winning, with a lot of the credit due to Danner’s skills which she has not been really given the opportunity to showcase before in her career. A lot of people know her as the mother from the Meet the Parents movies, or as the real life mother of Gwyneth Paltrow, but she finally shines in her own right. A beautiful scene in a karaoke joint is one of the standouts of this precious little film that I really enjoyed, and the film stalls in the best way possible as the audience is captivated and overcome by Carol expressing so many layers of emotion through the performance of a jazz classic. The film is also quite humorous at times, and a scene in which Carol and her three friends partake in smoking some marijuana is hilarious, if only because the sight of a bunch of elderly people getting high is as ridiculous as it is hilarious.
I hope people of all ages will be willing to give this movie a shot, because it will probably go forgotten as time goes by, and that would actually be quite a shame.