Coming out a tad late here for the yuletide season and very long after its original release in the States, perhaps Lovely, Still’s slow pick up by a major distributor is due to it being writer-director Nicholas Fackler’s debut feature film, made at the startling age of 23 (considering the subject).
Perhaps the delay is also due to its very anti-mainstream premise; the story of an elderly couple who meet and fall in love, and their eventual contention with the tribulations of an autumnal relationship, highlights the supposed lack of market for films with late-life main characters, and, whilst there are exceptions to this rule like Pixar’s Up, it’s a shame that such a niggling detail can rob a film with such a potentially broad audience a chance to see it.
Reclusive elderly shelf-stacker Robert Malone (played by Oscar winning Martin Landau) lives a feverishly abject life, until he finds his new next door neighbour Mary (Ellen Burstyn) meandering in his house shortly before Christmas. After the initial shock she asks him to dinner, beginning an unlikely yet seemingly destined love affair between the two. A senior romance is no less bound for tragedy than any other however, and through subtle hints we see develop a saddening nature behind this seemingly mismatched coupling.
Generally intriguing is how the relationship initially unfolds and the way in which Robert deals with it. The awkward and good-humoured first meeting could very easily have been replicated by a pair of teen leads, with the bashful appeals for help Robert seeks in his co-workers very familiar territory for any romantic comedy, and whilst it comes across as formulaic the context of its two star crossed lovers makes it all feel oddly fresh.
The performances in this film are truly exceptional, and wonderfully written. Rather than go with the current trend of charismatic and chauvinistic aged male characters (like in The Notebook) Landau is very subdued, charm emanating from an introverted yet very welcoming demeanour whilst in the film’s darker moments his violent outbursts are worrying, sometimes even frightening. Burstyn meanwhile is delightfully cheerful throughout, quite feisty too, thus when the plot reaches tragic turns we really do feel for her and what she’s going through.
Supporting roles are filled by Robert’s supermarket boss Mike (Adam Scott), whose boastful comedy is a bit hit and miss but on the whole a solid pick me up between the affecting scenes, whilst Mary’s daughter Alex (Elizabeth Banks) anchors the emotion of the film and acts as an appropriate parent/child role reverser. Where their intended purposes feel a little perplexing is in the final act, which adds a plot twist sadly wrenched in cliché. It answers some of the more prevailing plot holes but is also guilty of tackling a subject matter often misrepresented on film. It jars with the prior set of events and leads to an unsatisfactory and predictable ending. It remains well integrated for the most part, it just feels implausible and a precursor of what all films dealing with elderly couples as protagonists end up as.
Despite weaknesses in the overall story Lovely, Still stands as a great piece of filmmaking: the art direction is exquisite (the snowy setting turning individual frames into art) with lighting and editing techniques that carry the full wrought emotions. Add original music by Conor Oberset and a score by his fellow Bright Eyes band members, Lovely, Still is a solid debut that may even warrant a re-watch or two.
Words > Graham Ashton