[EDITOR’S NOTE: A drawback I hadn’t considered in choosing Portland, Maine, as my new hometown is that not many movies play here, particularly compared to New York City.
The Boynton Beach Bereavement Club is an important, new movie to Time Goes By, but I’m unlikely to see it until it’s released on DVD so when Susan Harris of GardenRant and Takoma Gardener offered to review it for TGB, I jumped at her suggestion. She titles her piece Boynton Beach, Hotbed of Eldersex and I thank her for a terrific critique.]
BACKSTORY First, I love the whole back story of The Boynton Beach Bereavement Club. Indie writer/director Susan Seidelman of Desperately Seeking Susan fame was inspired to write it by her mother who lives in a south Florida retirement community and had “stories to tell”. Mom Seidelman not only co-authored the script but served as the movie's producer, which means she scouted locations, hired extras, the whole enchillada.
When they approached the movie studios with their idea, they were told there's not enough commercial potential in this demographic, but they disagreed. After all, industry surveys show that viewers older than 50 now comprise 23.9 percent of the movie audience, a figure that's rising steadily. So the Seidelmans opened the movie themselves, with Mom handing out flyers and putting up posters in the delis of West Palm Beach, and after what one industry wag called a “cult following” in south Florida, it got picked up nationally.
My friend Joell and I were your TGB test audience and we both give it a thumb's up for its honest, sensitive portrayal of retirement community residents without reliance on tired-out, ageist stereotypes. (Okay, there were two arguably ageist bits - a view of water aerobics filmed underwater, flabby thighs and all, and the early-bird special, Chinese buffet - but they were funny.
Joell and I were both surprised that this so-called comedy was so much about the loss of a spouse, grieving and fear of loneliness. So poignant, so sad at its heart. And I'm not giving anything away because it starts with the accidental death of a really great guy out jogging and dancing to his iPod and the grieving of his wife, the ever-lovable Brenda Vaccaro at her very best. Actually, the whole cast is excellent, something reviewers agreed on.
But how about that eldersex? Well, it's not unlike teenager sex in movies - following characters as they date, buy condoms, get naked for the first time, and learn to drive. Except these folks are in their 60s and 70s, the point being that when it comes to the search for romance, we're always teenagers, something I can attest to from my own years of middle-aged dating. Best pick-up line: “By the way, I can drive at night.”
Still want to know more, you voyeurs? Okay, there's a flash of Sally Kellerman's breasts and two couples get it on off-camera. Probably too much sex for the Christian Coalition, but just fine in this sweet movie.
I know one movie can't say everything, but we see so many desperate woman here and I can't help suggesting it's time for us to reconsider our assumption that we need a man in order to be happy. After all, while men older than 60 are hot commodities, the odds against women of a certain age finding a man are, frankly, grim.
I'm reminded of a wonderful mother-in-law I once had who lived in North Miami and saw the desperation all around her. Her proposed solution to the problem; "The ladies should try going lesbian.” Now there'screative problem-solving for you, and there are a lot more options, like finding our passion in gardening or blogging or a million other pursuits.
PLASTIC SURGERY A lot has been written about the obvious surgical interventions on the faces of Sally Kellerman and most especially Dyan Cannon. Having been taught never to say mean things about people's looks, I'll just note what a relief it was every time the camera alighted on natural-looking faces. Natural-looking bodies, too, wearing clothes for grown-ups. Cannon is still lovable but her age denial is sometimes uncomfortable to observe.
THE REVIEWERS Knowing that Ronni's readers would be just as interested in reactions to the movie as the movie itself, I've read all the reviews I could find. They were generally favorable with scattered complaints that it's lightweight or “sitcom-y.” I agree, but do we really want a steady diet of On Golden Pond? I think not. Many critics noted the movie's humanity and sensitivity, and even applauded its focus on the issues and concerns of a “vast, overlooked demographic.”
So how do the reviewers rate on our ageism-ometer? I'm happy to report finding no egregious insults. The worst offender was The New York Times reviewer, who complained that the movie presented a “rose-colored fantasy of aging” because it “omitted talk of surgery, blood pressure, cholesterol, arthritis and the thousand other health concerns of older people.” Well, excuse us for having a life!
Actually, I'd like to counter with the reminder that characters in this movie dealt with loss, visits to the pharmacy, insurance forms, lapsed driver's licenses and patronizing comments about their ability to understand - not exactly the most fun aspects of aging.
One reviewer who stood out for his sensitivity is worth noting because he's a kid - specifically, a member of Brown U's class of 2008. His is the only review I found who mentioned the importance of friendship in the movie. (Especially touching was the grieving Brenda Vaccaro character telling her new best friend, Dyan Cannon, “You're the best thing that's happened to me all year,” and Cannon saying, “Me too.” I loved that!)
This young reviewer even suggested it's a shame that the fat ladies in the movie don't get partners, which is true but not something I even noticed. So the next time we all fume over some thoroughly obnoxious comment by a young person, I'll remember this guy and have hope.
One odd note: three different reviewers referred to the cast as baby boomers, so I wonder if the term is becoming synonymous with old people - at least to distant observers who don't know that boomers are still in their 50s and younger than anyone in the cast, thank you very much. As a true boomer myself, let me say: Don't rush us.
To Hollywood, “older audience” means viewers older than 25 and those older than 50 are virtually invisible. But change may be afoot. Think Ladies in Lavender, Calendar Girls, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Waking Ned Devine and World's Fastest Indian. And let's keep reminding Hollywood decision-makers that Driving Miss Daisy earned $100 million back in the day.
And there's some good news in this Washington Post piece about older folks on television. We're told that “Old is the New Young,” whatever that means, and that a whole slew of talented actors older than 50 are starring on TV. Seems that instead of targeting all their shows to the young, more programmers are using a big-tent model and going for “tonnage,” a rather weird term for large numbers of viewers. “Get enough audience and the demographics kind of take care of themselves.”
And maybe young viewers aren't so myopic after all because three out of four of the shows most popular with 18-to-34-year-old viewers are CSI, Desperate Housewives and House, all with stars way older than that coveted demographic group.
So check out The Boynton Beach Bereavement Club and thanks Ronni, for the invitation to play film critic/culture critic/know-it-all.