Monday, July 30, 2012

The wrong sort of build-up?

[Spoilers ahead]

I watched a film starring Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn a couple of nights ago.  It was called Lovely, Still.  Landau, who's still making movies at 83, made this movie back in 2008, and he looks very old in it even then.  Burstyn is about four years younger, but has aged rather better (or been helped to do so!)

The film, for almost 90% of the time, appears to be a love story between two elderly people who live across the road from each other.  There are one or two odd moments, but nothing to really get our suspicion levels up - or at least, they didn't get mine up, and I'm usually fairly well attuned to hints as to where a film might go.  It has some oddball comedy - nothing too outrageous - and seems as though it's all going to show just how good it is for old people to fall in love.

There are one or two questions, such as why this old man appears never to have been married before (the woman has been) and there's a scene at a Christmas party where the old man behaves more erratically than we might have expected up to that point, and doesn't know a child he obviously should know, but we're kept in the dark about these things.

Why we're fooled by what happens at the end is because the filmmakers have chosen to take an awful long time building up the romance (in fact I was beginning to think the film would have been better as a short), and more importantly, they keep letting us in on scenes that the old man shouldn't know about - in the light of what happens ultimately.   It turns out the old man has Alzheimer's and most of what we've seen during the course of the movie is nonsense.   He's been married to the woman for years; the younger couple aren't a couple but his children, a brother and sister, and presumably most of the rest of it is his imagination.   But looking back on it, this revelation in the last part of the movie is undermined for us because we've seen discussions between the wife and the daughter; we've seen an interview with the son and a prospective employee, and there are other minor things too.  Are we supposed to think that these were imagined by the old man?  If so, it doesn't quite work in the light of the whole movie, and for me this broke the 'pledge' the moviemaker has with his audience.

Some films get away with this: The Sixth Sense does it superbly; when we know the 'secret' we can look back over the movie and everything fits.  In this movie, things don't quite fit, and that's a pity.

Landau (who looks as times as though he's got a spray on tan even though it's winter) and Burstyn are great, and during the time when we're believing in their romance, they convince us entirely.   They hold us during the revelation at the end, too, but it's disappointing, somehow.

To show that I'm not alone in thinking this, here's Scott Foundas on the movie: ...don't even get me started about Lovely, Still—a first feature by 24-year-old directorNik Fackler screening in Toronto's dubiously named "Discovery" section—which can best be described as a very poor man's Away From Her as it might have been directed by a cut-rate M. Night Shyamalan. I realize the fact that this movie turns out to be about Alzheimer's disease is supposed to be a surprise, but any film grotesque enough to use Alzheimer's as a third-act, pull-the-rug-out-from-under-you twist deserves to have its beans spilled.

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