Wry schmaltz for crumblies everywhere, with a mighty dash of wish-fulfilment (and the emptiness of eternal life, when you get to thinking about it), a specious romantic sub-plot and some properly of-their-time, we-don’t have-the Star-Wars-budget special effects. For in the energy of aliens, comes the revitalisation of old American character actors, old age being their fear and their Cocoon.
Or something. It’s a fun film and the whole corridor retired to the TV room to watch it. There were tears as soon as it started, the familiar too full in our faces, as B-players of Hollywood amble around their own care home in deepest Florida. They’re not in a good state of health, given what the 70s and 80s do to a human body. But they’ve got personality – stealing round to the neighbours’ place to use their mighty indoor swimming pool.
But first, the bigger story. Stuff falls out of the sky. Steve Guttenberg is the nominal young bloke, big on a few movies in 1985, hard of chest and tiresome. He is running broke when Brian Dennehy, nondescript others and Raquel Welch’s fancy-me offspring (Tahnee Welch) pitch up and rent his time and boat to go get some cocoons out of the ocean. There’s been a crash, or something, but that doesn’t particularly matter other than to trigger solid waves of emote-you-bitches music. Cocoons make it to said swimming pool and…
Now, as much as I like the oldsters in the cast, they have a petulance and pettiness that is tellingly familiar, they’re also a touch too Hollywood. Hume Cronyn as selfish and spiteful husband (and in real life) to the oddly passive but nicely judged Jessica Tandy is all bouncy showman or grandstanding sulk – depending on how good the swimming pool waters have made him feel that day. Don Ameche is stick-insect-man in nasty shorts, with 1940s hair, and layers of judgement. Jack Gilford – who Mrs Jack would have happily kept as a pet – is much the same, only he’s spooked by the raw good health that comes over the other swimmers. All a bit sharp. In Cronyn’s defence, his Joe is hurled into remission by magic alien water so, you know, if he didn’t instantly betray Tandy later that week, old Jack here might like him. Pardon my tenses.
The softness comes from the fat guys: Wilford Brimley gives good grandpa. Tubby, hairy, loving of his grandson, and plain-spoken, he centres the old folk and gave old Jack someone to identify with. I’m not sure how he did it, but he made the prospect of immortality seem like a betrayal of normal human life a full hour before the script laid it on the line. Brian Dennehy, meanwhile, plays vague-but-kindly alien, Walter. You’ll like him as well.
Okay, so, the oldsters get better, then they fight and the rest of the care home finds out. They all head for the swimming pool and we discover the cocoons hold life forms that can be drained by crumbly selfishness. So the aliens blow up the Earth.
There’s no war. Just…soppiness.
Guttenberg and Welch get it on, despite her need to pull off the skin suit and glow. She has sensitivity and no wit; he has no sensitivity and no wit. Together, they’re a tiresome makeweight to get youngsters into the cinema. but that’s nothing compared to the final reel of forgiveness and understanding. Urgh.
You know, the rest of the film makes a lovely point about old age. If you could have a magic wand, would you avoid sickness and debility? Fuck, yes. But would you let go of all that is familiar to live forever? The last few scenes will test you on that one, provided you can take your eyes off the roaringly dated special effects and quit wondering who in the cast saw the year 2000.
Give it a go if you’re at the end. It’s a nearly-science-fiction fantasy for the crumblies, implausible in just about every character interaction save when Brimley and his grandson David (Barret Oliver) go fishing.