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Elsa & Fred (2012)

CRUMBLIES…2 crumblies

Grubby Gert is a bit of a Christopher Plummer fan. In the small hours of the morning, you can sometimes hear Edelweiss echoing down the corridor from her room. At other times, a crazed Klingon belittles William “The Shat” Shatner as they both regret becoming old soldiers. One Sunday afternoon, Grubby Gert decided to share her alone time with the rest of us, bunging on Elsa & Fred because there’s a scene where he’s in the bath. It turns out. I’ll be honest, that didn’t sell it to me, and neither did the plot, script or dialogue. It is…tiresome. Jump on in if you dare.

Admittedly, this tale of octogenarian romance between a forced-comedy-gran (Shirley MacLaine giving it eccentric and endearing as Elsa) and a curmudgeonly old widower readying himself for death (Plummer moving from hair-in-disarray to combing-it-now-I’m-in-love) is light and airy and tolerable if you share the mood and the implied brain trauma. But…pffffft. Old Jack didn’t.

They live in flats alongside one another. There’s some character set-up. She’s a funny old biddy who damages Fred’s daughter’s car (Marcia Gay Harden trying to find layers in exasperated), lies about it, and threatens Harden’s characterless kid who saw the incident. Plummer’s Fred is a misery who won’t shift from his bed.  Then…logic dies. And old Jack’s interest. Whilst Elsa is a complete nut job, lying and defying trustworthiness in all directions, she shoves herself in Fred’s face and he buys it. And falls for it. And…

For fuck’s sake…

…is suddenly in love. Grubby Gert kept squeezing the fruit as this was happening, her adoration of Plummer overcoming wild inconsistencies in his character, utterly unbelievable entrancement between him and Elsa, and Elsa and him. There are moments where Elsa tries to show Fred life is worth living: primarily driving him around town with the unnerving air that she’ll swerve under a lorry any moment, contemplating a frantic dance class and being caught in daring lies. Like her ex husband isn’t dead after all. The ex is busy being plot-device James Brolin and turns up at Fred’s door to tell him to forgive Elsa her sociopathy and let her wonderfulness wash over him while the chance is there.

For fuckity-fuckity-fuck’ sake…

This film, all sunny and American, is blandy-bland-bland. It takes hugely funny, talented grown-up actors and shoves them into middle-aged kids caricatures. Their personalities are one-note and flat, perhaps to let Elsa and Fred shine, but making them all seem disconnected and unreal. Chris Noth is selfish son-in-law, with none of his Sex in the City charm or – I’m going there – depth; Scott Bakula twinkles and only gets through because we know him so well. I kept expecting him to jump out of there…

Gert loved it. Old Jack was dazed by the unbelievable, inconsistent characters, a plot that boiled down to happiness-petulance-happiness-petulance-oh-you’re-ill, and characters so flat we never see the backs of their heads.

Oh – and just as Fred’s adoration for the deeply, deeply annoying Elsa reaches hair-brushing stage, the film loops around the poster she’s had on her wall throughout. For Elsa has a dream – to stand in Rome’s Trevi Fountain and frolic as Anita Ekberg did in La Dolce Vita. Directorial choice, people: what is the one thing you wouldn’t do at that point in the story?  Perhaps intercutting between the twenty-somethings of the original film and the eighty-somethings of this one? Everything awful about being flirted at by the crazed old biddies in B Wing came rushing at me.

You’ll notice I haven’t given the moment Fred and Elsa fall in love much weight here. That’s because I’ve had slower shits. It flies out of the film like the plot swigged a litre of Laxo-Plop (“The Quickest Way to Lose Weight Without Losing a Foot”). And this point – to which the banana-denting Grubby Gert was oblivious – wrecks any chance of romcom believability. So much for Crumbly Template 3: Live on, widower!

The performances of Plummer and MacLaine – for you only really notice the stars – hold the light. Their presence, and the transformation in Plummer, combines the subtle with the roaringly obvious. Their charisma comes out and gets ya. It’s a shame nothing else does. Well, except perhaps the promise of the original Spanish-Argentine version.

Buy it if you need it: the usual outlets.

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