Few things in this world could sound more depressing on paper than the prospect of a feature-length senior-citizen talent show. So consider it a triumph that Young@Heart overcomes it's dauntingly cutesy premise — a doc about a chorus of old-timers singing punk, hip-hop and rock tunes — to succeed as both rousing entertainment and a poignant reflection on aging. Brit director Stephen Walker caught the Young@Heart tour on a stop in London and was instantly enchanted by them — and chances are even the flintiest soul will be charmed by them by the second reel.
Y@H are, in fact, a pretty engaging lot of duffers, with a number of twinkling personalities that clearly emerge through the camouflage of wrinkles, liver spots and silver hair. These outsized personalities keep the movie rolling and elevate the whole project beyond a mere stunt, when it surely could have degenerated into the worst of art-project burlesques.
Who can resist the charms of 92-year-old Eileen Hall, an English spitfire who enjoys flirting with the lads, who turns the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should Go" into a cross between a come-on and a crotchety complaint? Then there's the jolly Fred Knittle, who, through an oxygen tube, delivers his cornball jokes like a traveling pitchman, evoking a million grandpas and joy-buzzer-packing uncles. Perhaps the most intriguing character is the 50ish whipper-snapper Bob Cilman, the group's musical director who picks tracks as diverse as James Brown's "I Feel Good" and Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia" then deals with the endless gentle grumbles from his singers who must perform such eclectic selections. Most of these folks would clearly prefer Bach to Bowie, and some of them can't figure out which side of a CD to load, but they plug on with an infectious tenacity.
The maudlin rises when Walker engages in ambulance chasing after some members get ill, and just when the whole enterprise seems ready to totter into a cloying twilight, good old Fred delivers a devastating rendition of Coldplay's "Fix You" to bring the house down. It's all the more moving that this song was intended as a duet but becomes a solo by necessity, because for these chipper folks the only thing more inevitable than death is living.
Showing at the Main Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].