Unfinished Song (2012) / Comedy-Drama
aka Song for Marion
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some sexual references and rude gestures
Running time: 93 min.
Cast: Terence Stamp, Gemma Arterton, Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Eccleston, Orla Hill, Barry Martin, Taru Devani, Anne Reid, Elizabeth Counsell, Ram John Holder, Denise Rubens, Arthur Nightingale, Jumayn Hunter
Director: Paul Andrew Williams
Screenplay: Paul Andrew Williams
Unfinished Song may be a divisive dramedy that splits audiences by the reason we go to the movies: do we appreciate movies that make us think, or do we measure up a good movie by what it makes us feel? There's little question that there are genuinely affecting moments delivered by a terrific cast, who imbue their characters with the necessary pathos to make us care. However, as a story, it's as cliché-ridden and manipulative as they come, sometimes shamefully so. You can almost sense the manufacturing process behind the scenes of this by-the-numbers screenplay.
Terence Stamp (The Adjustment Bureau, Yes Man) plays Arthur, a curmudgeonly old Englishman who becomes even more reclusive now that his wife Marion's (Redgrave, Cars 2) cancer has returned and the outlook is more than bleak. Despite Marion's lack of energy and limited time left, she still wants to participate in the all-senior vocal group, the OAP'z (Old-Age Pensioners), led by the indefatigably perky music teacher Elizabeth (Arterton, Prince of Persia), and try to get their troupe into a choir competition. After Marion's passing, Arthur finds that there is a void in his life he can't fill alone, though he's driven nearly everyone from it, including his mostly estranged son James (Eccleston, GI Joe: Rise of Cobra) and his way-too-adorable granddaughter Jennifer (Hill). For reasons that aren't completely explained in the story, Arthur takes it upon himself to half-heartedly join the choir, though he has an internal struggle on whether he is just being foolish in his resolve to come out and perform in front of a crowd who are likely to just laugh at him.
The film is at its best during the scenes when the two best actors of the bunch, Stamp and Redgrave, share quiet and tender moments alone together. Once Redgrave departs, so does much of the film's appeal, as we follow an emotionally constipated old man begrudgingly open up to the possibility of a public performance (turns out he was once a great singer). Contrived moments abound, such as having the solo songs performed by the leads not shown rehearsed, only having them listen to their potential renditions on earphones, presumably so that we can be delighted when we recognize them as they sing them in front of a crowd.
However, in an effort to make this more palatable and commercially viable than, say, Amour, writer-director Paul Andrew Williams (London to Brighton, The Cottage) injects a lot of catchy songs and humor. Admittedly, it is funny in spots and touching in others, thanks to good casting, and gets a modest recommendation for delivering sufficient entertainment, though it must be said that it carries quite a bit of saccharine overhead. Much of the humor comes through seeing senior citizens singing pop songs from the 1990s such as Salt-n-Pepa's "Let's Talk About Sex", B-52's "Love Shack", and, stretching even the credibility of Elizabeth's iPod selection, Motorhead's "Ace of Spades". If Arthur thinks they are being made to look foolish, he may have a point; Elizabeth seems hell-bent on making sure these elderly singers sing for novelty laughs more often than not.
If you fall for feel-good films like Sister Act, The Full Monty and Calendar Girls, you're probably its target audience. While Unfinished Song carries the load enough to forgive most of its excessive dips into the formula bag, Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave are light-years better than the story that surrounds them.
©2013 Vince Leo