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ELSA AND FRED
May 6, 2015
A lovable screenplay adaptation originally written by Anna Pavignano and I have to say, I very much admire Oscar nominated director and co-writer Michael Radford (Il Postino, 1994) for his courage and skill in giving this darling of a rom-com a good go. I mean, why should this genre mainly focus on young love and young people, what about romance that blossoms later in life, when people have loved, lost and lived through life’s battles, but who of course still long for companionship to see out their finer years?
A match made in heaven, Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer play two elderly and lovable characters Elsa and Fred, who end up living next door to each other in New Orleans with its quaint parks, art shows, coffee shops and close-knit neighborhood vibes.
Fred Barcroft (Plummer) is a typical ‘grumpy old sod’ type, who sadly lost his late wife only 8 months previous. We watch him as he stands at her gravestone mid movie and asks aloud, “Were we happy? No, didn’t think so, just wanted to check”. We quickly get the impression he wasn’t too fond of her and now spends most of his time reminiscing the choices he’s made in life whilst leaning back in his old reclining chair or curled up in bed, unwilling to move and face the world. This cranky chap mopes around feeling miserable and reluctant to engage in anything, and even his family try aimlessly to get him out and about, but find his mellow attitude frustrating and tiresome.
Enter Elsa Hayes (MacLaine), who acts as a persistent ray of sunshine, to which we wonder at first whether she’s simply irritating or actually a vessel of hope and positivity for Fred, seeing him as her project in getting him back on his feet and appreciating the time he has again. “Would you like me to show you the path to life?” – Elsa asks him.
She is blooming with life (or so it would seem) and becomes intriguing to Fred, with her elaborate stories (such as having been painted by Pablo Picasso), her beaming persona and dreamlike admiration for La Dolce Vita. He gradually begins to admire her confident, quirky, mischievous and determined nature and then begins the romance. Cruising down the street in her battered old car, pumping out the latest hip hop/house tunes and carelessly crashing into other vehicles, we start to wonder whether she’s as together and truth-telling as she portrays herself to be, or whether actually, she’s perhaps a bit more lost in her own little Federico Fellini world than she would have us believe.
It was great to see some other fantastic actors casted as the couples’ relatives, such as Chris Noth, (aka Sex in the City’s Mr Big) playing the stingy brother in law after Fred’s money, and Marcia Gay Harden (Law and Order) playing the confrontational yet slightly fretful daughter. These characters are a good interruption throughout this love story and I think the film needed them. They add comedy interaction but also give a realistic feel of keeping a worried and watchful eye on Elsa and Fred’s newfound friendship, looking out for their goodwill whether it is appreciated or not.
With a classical and romantic music score throughout, I smiled, I laughed and it caused me to reminisce about my own grandparents. I could see a bit of all of them within these two main characters, which added a nice touch. I’d also say that I’d watch this one again as it warms the soul and could be a good one to pop on with the family, rather than friends.
Elsa and Fred is available on DVD and Digital Download from May 4th