Title: Elsa & Fred
HTS Overall Score:
I’m a sucker for romantic movies. I’ll watch the classics like “Sabrina” and “Casablanca”, up to modern ones like “Sense & Sensibility” or “Love Actually”. Love makes the world go round, as the old saying goes, and the movie watching audience (women in particular) eat them up with great gusto. Most romances deal with the younger audience, usually peaking with the characters being in their mid to late 30’s on average. A few deal with the older crowd, but VERY few deal with people in winding down years such as Elsa & Fred. Some of them can be very sweet, and others a bit of a miss sometimes, but usually they never dissatisfy. I love Christopher Plummer ever since his most famed work in “The Sound of Music” and was ready for a good time tonight. Unfortunately “Elsa & Fred” wasn’t able to deliver the goods as I would have liked (and by that I mean I would REALLY have liked for it to be better than it was).
Fred (Christopher Plummer) is an 80 year old man who has just been put into a new apartment by his daughter in an effort to keep him closer to her. Assigned an adult caregiver, Fred has to look forward to the indignity of being treated like a child and the grim reality that his life is winding down to an end sometime in the remotely near future. He’s widowed 7 months, he’s on a billion pills, and his scummy son in law is hitting him up for a business investment. Bitter and angry at life and those that want to cheer him up, Fred lives inside his apartment and waits for the end.
This all changes when his nosy neighbor, Elsa (Shirley McLaine) pops on over to cheer up Fred. She’s basically the antithesis of the aging man. While Fred is introverted and cynical, Elsa is a crazy old lady who can pinch pennies like a Scot, is over the top bubbly and full of life, and loves to be around people. Taking the old man under her wing, she attempts to bring him out of his shell and realize that just because he’s old doesn’t mean life is over. As the unlikely couple spends more time together, the two start to develop romantic attachments to the other. Elsa is obviously first and giggling like a little girl, while Fred begrudgingly has to come to grips with feelings he though were long dead and gone for him.
The two soon form a loving bond that revitalizes Fred and turns his life around in a direction he never thought possible. However this whirlwind romance runs into a few hiccups when Fred realizes that Elsa isn’t exactly big on truth. Her exciting life that she lives is uncertain as Fred starts to realize the “crazy old woman” act isn’t always an act. Elsa’s imagination is so wild and vivid that reality and fantasy blurs for her and many of the past stories that they built their relationship on may not be as accurate as Fred originally thought. Hurt and feeling betrayed, Fred pulls away and starts to go back into his shell. That is until he receives a visit from Elsa’s “dead” husband who talks Fred into realizing that the fantasy life of Elsa may be a bit irritating, but the other side of that coin is the passionate, vibrant woman that he would be giving up. Making a decision, Fred leaps at the chance to spend what little time the two have left together and enjoy what life has to offer.
I really REALLY wanted to like this movie, as I adore Christopher Plummer and the premise was sweet. Unfortunately the movie was working at odds with itself. On one hand with have a sweet story of two older people finding love again in a life that seems to have forgotten that they are still human, and the other side that pushed in the opposite direction had to deal with how the characters were portrayed. Shirley McLaine played Elsa with her typical “crazy old woman” schtick that she’s been doing the last several years, but is still quite endearing at times. My problem really had to do with the script and the rushing of the romance. Nothing felt “natural”, if you know what I mean. The romance jumped ahead way too quickly as what they were building towards in the first act of the film seems to be cheapened by bypassing the friends stage. They went straight from hating each other into romance in the blink of an eye it seemed. Secondly, I was rather put off by the way the writers glossed over Elsa’s penchant for drastic exaggeration and mistruths. They basically told the audience that it was ok because she was so vibrant and passionate that the romantic passion was all that mattered. As I said before, it felt rather unnatural and forced.
On the other hand, the movie had its moments of sweetness between the couple and I admit that Shirley and Christopher played an incredible couple when they got their groove going. Shirley is over the top and bombastic, foiled by Christopher Plummer’s stodgy old man. Christopher in particular impressed me (but then again he always impresses, as the man can’t bring home a subpar performance), and the couple really meshed, especially in the end sequence where they re-enacted the “La Dolce Vita”. As such the movie felt at odds with itself. On one side we had a sweet story and the actors put a LOT of heart into the movie, but the conflicting writing and the rushed romance made it so I couldn’t really connect with them. It’s not a bad movie for a quick rental, but I was a bit disappointed considering the A level actors involved as well as the cameo presence of Scott Bakula, George Segal, and James Brolin.
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language
“Fred & Elsa” comes to Blu-ray and DVD with a very pleasant and pleasing 2.35:1 transfer. The movie obviously has some boosted contrast and that gives it an almost surreal tone and matches the aging characters quite well. Colors tend to be on the warm side, with soft pastels and rich blues and greens to compliment. The French restaurant that Elsa and Fred visit glows with burnished yellows and sepia overtones and the humble abode of Fred starkly contrasts with harsh blues and whites, which acts nicely as a foil to the enjoyment of life that happens outside his 4 walls. The movie had some scenes of incredibly clarity, especially in the outside sequences, followed by some close up interior shots that suffered a bit from digital noise and some glossy softness. Overall it’s a very pleasing transfer and the stylistic softness that covers the entire films seems to be a director’s choice as it matches perfectly with the overly boosted white levels to create a unique texture to the film.
The 5.1 TrueHD track is just as pleasing as the video, with a nicely nuanced experience that fits very well into the genre. The dialogue is, of course, front and center to the rest of the pieces, and it never fails to disappoint as we can hear every word spoken with impeccable clarity and precision. The front soundstage fills in the cracks quite nicely with solid directionality and good use of side noises. The surrounds get used a decent amount, especially with the little sonic details such as the whistling of a tea kettle or the slamming of a door in the background. I was a little bit disappointed in the LFE as there was VERY little in the film, and while this is not a movie that really calls for heavy use of the surround channels there were a few instances where a little more low end would have been helpful. The movie also provided a 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo track for night listening, but considering the mellow nature of the movie you won’t have to worry about waking up the neighbors with the full 5.1 mix.
• Making of Featurette
“Elsa & Fred” is a bit of a weird mix. On some levels I really enjoyed the narrative. The tale of finding love even when you’re past the stereotypical prime is endearing and heartwarming. Add the fact that Christopher Plummer is almost incapable of turning in a bad performance and you have a double whammy. On the other hand, the poor characterization of ACTUAL love and the writing of Elsa’s character worked against it leaving the viewer a bit cold on the delivery. I would have to say that it might be worth a rental or a Netflix viewing, but I can’t suggest a blind buy on this one.
Starring: Shirley McLaine, Christopher Plummer, Marcia Gay
Directed By: Michael Radford
Written By: Michael Radford, Anna Pavignanno
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 AVC
Audio: ENGLISH: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, English DD 2.0
Studio: Millennium Media
Runtime: 97 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: December 30th 2014
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