Geeky Cinephile Musings…
I don't pontificate, I blather.

Greetin’ and Cringin’

As if we needed any further proof that Terence Stamp is the MAN…Exhibit WZ-6,999—his newest film, Unfinished Song, (also titled Song for Marion) starring Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Eccleston, and Gemma Arterton.  Written and directed by Paul Andrew Williams.  I cut and pasted IMDB’s synopsis here:

Grumpy pensioner Arthur honors his recently deceased wife’s passion for performing by joining the unconventional local choir to which she used to belong, a process that helps him build bridges with his estranged son, James.

Now, normally I would NEVER pay to see this film in a theater, for no other reason than that description.  Just LOOKING at that, I see gigantic red flags screaming, “DANGER!! DANGER!! BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL!!! DANGER!!!!”  But, being on the Landmark Theater’s mailing list, I was notified that Mr. Stamp himself would be attending this screening and taking part in a Q&A afterwards. So I forked over my $28 for two tickets.

So, was it worth it? Yee-esss.

Was the film good? Sort of.

Was HE good? YES!!

This film…shudder…this film was the BIGGEST sob-fest I believe I have ever seen in public, with the notable exception of the scene in The Neverending Story where Artax dies…double shudder…but this was worse than that, only because the waves of pain just keep coming and coming.  Just when you think you’ve cried enough, along comes another gut-wrenching scene.  I was sitting there, with tears POURING down my cheeks, wishing I’d brought a tissue, all the while trying to stay silent and not disturb my fellow moviegoers with my snotting.  My chest felt heavy, I kept having to remind myself to breathe deeply…just…awful.  It was so incredibly hard to not be in the comfort of my own home where I could just bawl like a baby and have done with it.  In fact, I was so distraught, when the film was over and the lights came up, I kept having to force myself to not burst into tears and cry aloud.  I’m telling you—this film is absolutely heartbreaking.

But…it is NOT a good film.  In fact, the only thing that makes this film noteworthy in any way are Stamp’s and Eccleston’s performances, but really just Stamp’s, as Eccleston’s part is quite small.  When Paul and I were walking out of the theater, he turned to me and said, “I was jes greetin’ and cringin’ the entire time.”

You know, I couldn’t have said it better myself…only I’m not Scottish.

The loss of a loved one, a lifelong partner, is a frightening thing to contemplate.  As someone who is married to their best friend, is a bit of a melancholic at times, and who cannot even BEGIN to imagine how horrible it would be to lose that person, I am extremely vulnerable to the plucking of those particular heart strings.  And Unfinished Song takes those heart strings and wails on ‘em like a fucking flying V.   There is a scene where Marion (Redgrave) has just been told that she is dying, fast.  Actually, the doctor puts it like this, “Chips and ice cream, Marion.  Go home and eat as much as you want.” (P.S. — WTF?!?!?!?!?) She and Arthur (Stamp) go home and sit on their couch, stunned into silence.  Marion tries to ease the tension by saying something innocuous.  The normally stoic Arthur, not looking at her, bursts out, whispering, “Please don’t go away.”

AUGH!! Breathe.

So THAT is the greetin’.

Now comes the cringin’.

Remember how I blasted The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel? The archetypes, oh holy Christ the ARCHETYPES!!!! Unfinished Song wasn’t quite as bad on a long-range scale, as TBEMH was nothing BUT archetypes, but in short bursts it was even worse.  We have the “Old Age Pensionerz” (cos the Z makes it gangsta, yuck, yuck) singing “Let’s Talk About Sex,” and “The Ace of Spades.”  Is that funny enough on its own? Yeah, sure, I guess.  Do we need to have them singing those songs wearing long black wigs, motorcycle jackets (with a bowtie! Cos the old man keeps his little bowtie on WITH the jacket, see?!?!), and then the coup de grace—a poor, unfortunate chap who is unable to stand up after the guitar solo??

NO.

Damn these British comedies lately with their determination, no OBSESSION, with making “hilarious” films about old age pensioners who are cutesily clueless and yet surprisingly hip. They’re not stuffy!! They don’t shy away from sex!! Oh, and look at the granddad bustin’ a move with the robot, only to have his neck give out, oh NOOO, but oh, how charmingly funny!!

Gag me.

I’m so over this notion that the average theatergoer in this day and age has to have it hammered home to them that the elderly have personalities too.  And I’ll wager that some mature audience members leave these films feeling like they’ve just been made into a silly, stereotyped joke.  I know I would.  These characters are so predictable!! Just STOP IT already.  STOP. IT.  Show some real fucking respect by giving them a character that is neither a curmudgeon or dotty.

Which brings me to how Stamp saves this film.  The writing in Unfinished Song can be rather vanilla.  It’s wonderful when it’s simple and at times devastating in its humanness, but a lot of the time, when I closed my eyes and really just listened to the words, and imagined them on a page, I thought, “Been there, done that, in a million films.”  So what kept me connected and sobbing like a baby? The performances.  And God bless actors that can take a mundane line and wrench out your heart with it.

In the Q&A, Stamp said that, although he instinctively liked the script from the get-go, he had misgivings, because Arthur is so incredibly normal—just a working class man.  And, as Stamp put it, “it’s very…difficult…for me to be normal.”  We all chuckled, but he’s right—there is something striking about him.  It’s that General Zod—otherworldly—quality—the ghastly paleness, those dangerous blue eyes…he’s certainly anything but normal looking.  And maybe that is part of the magic that keeps Arthur from being just another “grumpy, old age pensioner.”

But there’s more.  Stamp also mentioned during the Q&A that he “became the actor (he’s) always wanted to be,” in this film.  When asked to elaborate, he described the feeling of growing up and watching the greats, like Gary Cooper, or Marlon Brando, and seeing them effortlessly connect with audiences, pulling them in, making them feel.  With this film, (and I’m summarizing here, apologies) he said he felt this pull (here he pointed to his heart), and he just had to learn the lines and go—the character spun itself out in every scene without any acting whatsoever.  I agree—that is evident.  His performance is astounding.  He moved me in incredible ways, especially in the climax of the film, when he sings his solo to his dead wife.  Jésus Christo, what a sob-fest!!!

I give credit where credit is due here—this film is incredibly touching, you will most certainly cry, and Stamp and Redgrave together are worth watching by any standards.  But the kooky old folks parody ultimately drags this film down into normal territory—exactly what Stamp was worried about.

My advice to you? Wait for it on Netflix.

P.S.  Stamp mentioned he lives in Ojai!!! I wonder if he and Malcolm hang out?!?!?!?!!? Mind = officially blown

P.P.S.  Just an interesting, personal observation for those of you who like this sort of thing (I know I do): When Terence Stamp is talking, and he pauses to think, he goes utterly and completely still–his eyes go blank, he doesn’t make a sound, and he does not move a muscle.  It’s almost like he’s having a heart attack or something.  Very jarring to watch.  Just do it in the mirror and you’ll see what I mean.

Mr. Stamp? Sir? Sir, are you all right?

Photo badly taken by Paul Livingston…was the fat guy in front of him’s fault.

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