Sunday, December 28, 2014

Michael Radford's ELSA & FRED, based on the better Spanish original, arrives on Blu-ray/DVD

It's never too late to fall in love. So, there. And if that idea appeals, this remake, ELSA & FRED -- from the original and internationally popular geriatric-rom-com of the same name from Argentina and Spain (made way back in 2005 but not receiving a theatrical release in the USA until 2008) -- should do the trick. If you were lucky enough to see the original film, which starred two aged and much-loved performers from, respectively, South America and Spain -- China Zorrilla and Manuel Alexandre -- you'll immediately understand why the casting of Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer is both appropriate (these are two of our biggest, English-speaking, geriatric stars, after all) and much less interesting. MacLaine and Plummer look about as fit as possible -- svelte and attractive, given their age -- and absolutely made for each other. So what's the problem? The problem is: There ain't one.

In the original film (you can read my review of it for Greencine here), Zorrilla and Alexandre were, physically and emotionally, like oil and water: he a quiet, closed-off and aged runt, she a zaftig hurricane of a woman with enough vitality to blow anyone off the screen. How the two become close is fraught with problems that take the entire film to work out, and by its close, the movie leaves you in tears even while you're chuckling. In this remake, as good and glossy as it is -- the generally smart screenplay is by director Michael Radford (shown at left) and Anna Pavignano (who co-wrote the wonderful Casomai) -- the coupling seems a fait accompli from the outset. And while it is indeed amusing to watch these two old pros deliver their lines and have some fun doing it, all the quirkiness, the sadness and only-barely-hidden despair brought to the original by its two stars goes missing.

But let's concentrate on what's in the remake, shall we? MacLaine and Plummer (shown above and below) offer their usual spirited charm, as well as their usual (of late) crotchety onriness. If we don't quite buy Elsa's insistent dream of going to Italy's Trevi Fountain and playing the Anita Ekberg role in La Dolce Vita, that's probably because MacLaine seems far too smart for something like this. (Zorrilla had the vulnerability and girth, emotionally and physically, to make this work). Here, it seems a bit tacked-on.

The supporting cast surrounding our pair is certainly worthy, too: everyone from Marcia Gay Harden to Chris NothScott Bakula to George Segal and James Brolin -- plus a nice little sub-plot concerning Fred's caretaker (played by Erika Alexander) and the building's superintendent (Wendell Pierce).

So, if you're in the mood for a geriatric rom-com with classy performers and a decent script, by all mean take a chance on this light and very dispensible movie. The original, however -- available on DVD via Netflix or Amazon -- is more of a keeper.

From Millennium Entertainment and running 97 minutes, Elsa & Fred arrives on Blu-ray and DVD this Tuesday, December 30 -- for sale or rental via the usual suspects.

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