I wonder if this setting is too far from our own experience that others, like me, will struggle to identify with it?
The story line is simple: 72 year old Carol - played by Blythe Danner, who doesn't look a day over 50 - is a widow of twenty years who lives a controlled and relatively content life in a quiet LA suburb with her dog, Hazel.
An ex-singer and successful teacher, Carol's life is now a predictable routine: drinking coffee by her personal pool, reading the New York Times daily, wearing expensive chic outfits and napping with her dog. Several times a week she goes to the golf club to lunch with her girlfriends (June Squibb, Rhea Perlman and Mary Kay Place) who act more like a coven: cackling and baying over coarse innuendoes, playing bridge, talking smutty over copious amounts of wine, trying to fix each other up on futile elderly dates, and having a fun time at speed dating events with rude, withered, male specimens who have obviously seen much, much better days.
After her dog dies, Carol has a mad few days in which she encourages her young new pool man, (Martin Starr) after her second bottle of wine that day, to take her to a karaoke session where she shows she has not lost her youthful singing skills by giving us an impressive version of 'Catch me a River'.
Following on fast from that adventure, she catches the eye of a craggy and seemingly sexy fellow called Bill (Sam Elliott) in the chemist; a cigar chewing Lothario who admits he has an anal fixation. They have a couple of romantic dates on his boat called 'So What', and indeed, 'so what?'
A couple of days later, when Carol has half convinced herself she loves Bill and he has proposed, he's dead too. Heart attack. Tough. Is this it then – the future we all have waiting for us post-retirement?
Well, hidden way under the more ridiculous aspects of senior life in America, there are some significant conversations: between Bill and Carol when he talks about suffering the banalities of the Golf Course Old Folks Home: 'I am a social guy and I don't like to be on my own. But I like this too….' gesturing at the wide, open, calm sea from his boat. And between Carol and her pool man, who discuss whether you should live life in the moment or always have a plan, something to aim for.
I would have loved a few more satisfying alternatives to the bleak living-death at the rich residential home, where people are shown as being bored enough to need dope, to the extent they actually enjoy the endless dumbed down social activities. It is disturbing to watch these previously successful, intelligent and creative people frittering their privileged time away in death's waiting room, padded by all the luxuries they could want, degrading themselves in this way. They may have had money but they sure don't have a life! And having tried all of this and experienced Bill's sudden death, Carol feels all hope has gone too.
When her grown up daughter reminds her of her successful past as a singer, a mother and a teacher, Carol cries: 'But there was supposed to be more than this…' She wants a future, but sadly she too falls back to the old folks' mentality.
After shedding a few tears for Bill, (though not as many as she did for the dog), Carol goes back to the old routine: coffee, pool, the New York Times, lots of wine and the golf club coven who then plan an Icelandic cruise. And she acquires a new dog from Animal Rescue. That is truly it.
Despite approaching what some might call the right audience age bracket, I could neither engage or relate to this film and came away feeling distanced and uncharacteristically judgemental. It is a shame, as I would like to think this wasn't the intention of director Brett Haley, who co-wrote the film with Marc Basch.
Was this is a story about loneliness, and the lengths the well off go to to avoid it? Or a cynical take on the phoniness of affluent retired lives in the US? Or simply the fact that the script failed to provide enough depth to provoke empathy for the retired generation? It is a pity that Danner, as Carol, did not have more scope for her talent, but somehow she does the limp script more than justice.
Or maybe I have missed the point completely and the true message was: 'For unconditional love and companionship, get a (young and healthy) dog?'
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