This week in my movie class, we had a bonus screening of the British comedy-drama, “Unfinished Song”, starring Terence Stamp, Gemma Arterton and Vanessa Redgrave
When a grumpy widower joins the chorus group to which his late wife belonged, he suddenly finds that he’s making new friends – but when they get a chance to participate in a singing competition, can they rely on him to perform his solo or will he completely dismiss them?
Old age is catching up to Arthur (Stamp) and his long-time wife Marion (Redgrave) – and in the case of sickly Marion, at least, it appears that old age is winning. Arthur’s life now focuses on caring for Marion, who is a member of a chorus group comprised of other elderly people and led by a youthful and vivacious Elizabeth (Arterton). Eventually, all of the rehearsals for an upcoming audition take their toll on an exhausted Marion, putting her back in the hospital. Unfortunately, after an extensive work-up by the doctors, Marion is informed that her cancer has resurfaced and that she doesn’t have much time left.
Bitter about losing his companion, Arthur takes out his anger on both the choir and his estranged son, James (Christopher Eccleston). To the best of her ability, Marion tries to continue participating in her choir because she enjoys her friendships and finds the experience somewhat therapeutic. Provided with a solo, Marion performs at the audition and shortly thereafter, the group learns that they are invited to be among the competitors in a singing contest. Sadly, as the group prepares for the competition, Marion passes away; following the funeral, Arthur takes this opportunity to tell James that he wants nothing more to do with him.
As Marion’s last request, Arthur joins her choir after her passing. Elizabeth not only welcomes him, but encourages Arthur as well; when she discovers that Arthur can actually carry a bit of a tune, she has him perform the solo that Marion was originally scheduled to sing. While spending more time with the group, Arthur’s heart begins to soften somewhat and he attempts reconciliation with James but is rebuffed. Come the day of the competition, Arthur is nowhere to be seen; panicking, Elizabeth gathers the rest of the group and heads off, scrambling to rearrange their scheduled performance at the last minute. Can Arthur put his personal disappointments aside and join his newfound friends at the competition or will he simply revert to his reclusiveness and ultimately let them down the way he has let down James?
Terence Stamp has had a long and distinguished career but for me, Stamp will always be General Zod. The “original” one. Sorry, but I just can’t disassociate him from that role. It’s one of my many limitations. And speaking of limitations … Paul Andrew Williams – writer/director of “Unfinished Song” – seems to have found his limitations with this film. While I’m not overly-familiar with his work, I’m given to understand that Williams’ track record is comprised of grittier stuff. In trying to create a touchy-feely comedy/drama about life and aging, he may be out of his depth.
What is it about the British and their obsession with producing so many “coming-of-old-age” movies? “Marigold Hotel” and “Quartet” are just a couple of relatively recent ones that come immediately to mind – also, there’s “Calendar Girls”, which is a bit less recent but significantly better than either of those or “Unfinished Song”, for that matter. My main problem with this film is that it falls straight out of a sentimental tree and manages to hit just about every clichéd branch on its way down. Neither all that funny nor all that touching, it comes across as very formulaic and contrived in its attempts to evoke any degree of emotion from the audience.
Clearly, the filmmakers are hoping to hook into the same audience that made the above – referenced “Marigold Hotel” such a big hit. Whether they will be able to do so or not remains to be seen. “Marigold Hotel” at least had a bit of a clever twist in terms of its situation. As was accurately pointed out by another member of the class, the twist in “Unfinished Song” was actually borrowed from the documentary “Young@Heart”, which was also shown in this same class several years ago. If you have never seen that particular documentary, I highly recommend you do so – it’s a much better film than “Unfinished Song”, not to mention the fact that as a documentary, it’s a true story.