Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Director Paul Andrew Williams (London to Brighton) offers a solid, if predictable crowd-pleaser in the cozy and comfortable "Unfinished Song." The film about an old curmudgeon (Terence Stamp) who discovers the release and the joys of singing in his later years, is very much in the mode of "Quartet" and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" for its focus on old sourpusses who nurse old bitters, overcome hardships and (Egad!) enjoy themselves again. This film would be a rote snoozer if not for the direct and potent acting by Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave and Gemma Arterton.
We know what we're getting: Stamp is Arthur Harris, a stooped and shuffling aging man who sees his teacup half-empty. Arthur dutifully takes care of his ailing wife, Marion (Redgrave) who has an unfailing zest for life, despite her cancer. Marion greatly enjoys her choir group at a support facility and tries to inspire her non-emotive hubby Arthur to join in the jolly fun, but Arthur will have none of it. He is silently eaten up by hurts and fears which seem to be triggered by his unkempt and slightly bohemian adult son James, (Christopher Eccleston).
When Marion becomes too ill to join in the choir, Arthur nonchalantly encounters the free and impulsive choir-head, Elizabeth (Arterton). A reserved series of meetings commence with Arthur becoming softly intrigued by Elizabeth's light spirit.
Aside from an all too corny rendition of a Motörhead favorite "Ace of Spades," which would make any fan cringe, the singing and characters manage to charge and delight in spite of the sweet shortbreading of this pedestrian plot. The hip hop interpretation of "Let's Talk About Sex" is a joy as is the version of B-52s "Loveshack." The singing on the whole beguiles precisely because there is real energy onscreen fused by a delicate touch of time's passing.
While its true that this film plays all the usual notes, Terence Stamp is authentic and transfixing in his iron-steady bearing. In a moment, there is something impish and magical in his sly smile brought on by his voice. His portrayal of the gray and frowning Arthur will undoubtedly bring to mind the legendary Ebenezer Scrooge (as if drawn by Samuel Beckett) at his moment of reversal. Honest and engaging, too, are Stamp's exchanges with Redgrave and Arterton which seem completely without artifice and happily dispense with theatrics.
There is even juice and surprise in Redgrave singing Cyndi Lauper, who allows her voice to break and drift off, as if to betray pensive worries and forbidding uncertainties. Because of this, we believe all the more.
"Unfinished Song" goes down so well because of its sweetness and honesty. For the most part, all discos, dirges and harmonies are played as is, and you are left in satisfaction with a light and rousing good time.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org