Young at Heart (2007) dir. Stephen Walker
“Young@Heart” is a bit of a cheat. How is it possible to dislike a group of lovable old farts singing off-key pop tunes as a travelling chorus group? British filmmaker Stephen Walker tapped into this gold mine of quirky entertainment after seeing the group perform in London. It makes for a lovely film which pulls the heart strings without yanking him with sappy sentiment.
Young@Heart is not only the name of the film but a musical group of senior citizens from Northhampton Massachussetts who sing in a travelling chorus group not only in an effort to make good music but bring a light of joy to their debilitated lives. Bob Climan, a spunky 50-something, conducts the group and programs their eclectic musical selections. Climan gets the group to sing pop songs, which many of the members of the group have never even hear before. There's Coldplay, Sonic Youth, The Clash.
Walker’s traditional approach to the material gives the film the feeling of an old-style documentary – like Apted’s “Up Documentaries”. We hear Walker’s drole British voice guiding the film and informing the audience of what’s happening.
The music is OK at best, but we’re not here to hear good music. Walker centres in on a few key characters – the most lovable and cute of course. The film could easily have settled into a sappy ‘high on life’ affair, but Walker gets a little dirty with the story - just a little. The band’s director and conductor Bob Climan pushes his seniors to limit to get the best performance out of them. He’s not the sweet volunteer humanitarian painted with loving respect you’d think. The frustration of trying to teach 90-year olds Sonic Youth’s “Schizophrenia” is more than visible on his face.
The characters reign supreme above the cuteness. Fred Knittle’s “Fix You” overture provides a great climax to the film. The oxygen tank he carries around with him suggests some forced sympathy but when he belts out the Coldplay classic from his seated chair, we’re reminded of the late career of Johnny Cash, putting years of pain into the renditions of his songs. We get the same feeling from Mr. Knittles.
A great companion film to this is the wonderful Italian documentary, “From Mother to Daughter” which premed at the Toronto International Festival a couple weeks ago. In that story, we watch a group of elder former-rice patties farmers from Italy reunite and form a travelling folk-song group. One of the uniting themes between both these films is the respect of the youth to its elderly. The best scene in “Young@Heart” is a concert they perform to a group of prison inmates. There’s a truthful expression of respect and admiration by the prisoners which hit home as much as anything shown in the film.
“Young at Heart” is available on DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Other relevant postings:
FROM MOTHER TO DAUGHTER