Two films about old people attracted my attention this week: Finding Your Feet (2018) and Eternity And A Day (1998). I had seen the latter 19-20 years ago but I only remembered the two characters : an old man and a little boy. Putting this 2hours+ Greek film aside I viewed Finding Your Feet with my partner on DVD at home.
With such a cast (Imelda Staunton, Celia Imrie, Joanna Lumley, Timothy Spall, David Hayman) we wondered how it escaped, on its release (2018), my keen eyes (and my friends’ who follow films about old women.)
In spite of the more or less favourable reviews we were bemused by the dullness of this film. I was specially stricken by the feeling of being patronised without being able to fault the acting. My partner dismissed the film as a confection created by following a recipe with characters he did not believe in and a cliché narrative. I needed to go to the source of my discomfort and viewed the interviews with all the people responsible for this concoction.
In the first instance I perceived Joanna Lumley as an actor who with little spare time condescended to appear briefly in a film about old people. I was struck by the close-ups of her face and lack of depth of character. At the time Lumley was 72. There was not a wrinkle, a fold around the eyes, the mouth, the neck. In her interview there is a tinge of ‘me and them’ attitude.
The rest of the cast was more believable mainly due to the actors who knew each other well, had previously acted together and projected their friendly relationships onto the screen. While the actors all aged 60+ demonstrate in their own lives and interviews no ageist attitudes, the characters and narrative were not more than clichés after clichés about old women, I guess directed at an older audience.
It is in the interviews with the writers (Meg Leonard, Nick Moorcroft) both aged 40 that I found this ageist outlook. The two main female characters are two estranged sisters and the film shows how they get together. The older sister, Bif, lives the care free life of what can be described as a ‘hippy’. She has a male friend Charlie who has sold his house to finance a care home for his demented wife. At the beginning of the film Sandra the younger sister discovers that her husband, recently knighted, had an affair with her best friend for the last five years. She leaves him and take refuge with her sister in a council flat. In cliché after cliché, including a trip to Rome, a dance performance, Bif dies, and Sandra joins Charles. The dance class and performance of a group of old people is the subject of many commentaries in reviews.
I just wonder why the DVD includes interviews of all the contributors responsible for this film and their comments on the characters, their back stories, what happens to them and details of the production. Is it aimed at school students of film studies? Or to be more controversial to educate the presumed target: Old People audience?
Comments by the writers:
Characters: Sandra: She is the classic woman behind every great man. She is waiting for retirement for a life to begin. It is the universal story of women waiting – losing their identity and waiting to reinvent themselves when they are non longer needed to support everyone else.
Bif: maverick bonviveur she doesn’t care what other people think.
The feel good romance : : we had a lot of fun with that. The classic references : Adam’s Rib, Bringing up Baby, It’s as Good as it gets.
What they hope audiences will take from the film: maybe they will question their lives maybe take a risk themselves maybe do something brave “it is that pottery class that you do not want to go to maybe because you are shy or … It does not have to be dance specific. It is inspiring….
There is no doubt that there is more evidence in the extended interviews on the DVD that the film was conceived as a feel good film about old people. The producer asked what attracted her to the project: its primary focus on people of a certain age….. but actually it reaches far more than that … the message about a leap of faith, giving life a second chance. The director: ….. better to jump of the cliff and keep running and keep going and have some passion.
It seems to me that the film was conceived as a film with a message. A message to old people, a feel good film about old people, for old people and I tend to agree with the review in Bouquets & Brickbats, 1st March 2018
Viewers can easily tell the difference between a genuine story and a marketing exercise. With Finding Your Feet I simply cannot escape the feeling that behind all those light-hearted escapades lurks a mean-spirited attempt to part older viewers from their money – and try as I might, I can’t quite forgive it for that.
- For films by numbers see Oct 12. 2012 post in this blog Hope Springs: Instruction manual
For Old Women at work example see: Celia Imrie was filming during the day and appearing in King Lear with Glenda Jackson at night