May 14, 2008


Meet the John McCain campaign committee

Grade: A –
Director: Stephen Walker
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Like many film critics, one of the most frequent invectives hurled my way goes something like this: “Why can’t you just enjoy a movie without overanalyzing every little thing?” Notwithstanding the fact that analysis is only reason I sit through 90 percent of the movies I watch, I often wonder whether an overexposure to films plus the occupational compulsion to dissect every nuance eventually drains away the joy that made me want to become a film critic in the first place. I still assert with unwavering certitude that Munich, United 93 and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford were the best films over each of the past three years. But, I yearn for the days when my critique began and ended with such declarations as, for instance, Star Wars was the “most awesomest movie ever.”

Young@Heart does not rely upon exploding Death Stars or a search for the lost Ark of the Covenant. Frankly, it is grounded in the trite genre of Old People Doing Wacky Things™ and propelled by manipulative editing. However, I am exercising the right to temporarily doff my critic’s hat because I refuse to indulge the hard heart required to deride this wonderful piece of uplift. Simply put, I adore this film.

The New England-based Young at Heart Chorus is a collection of senior citizens who, after years of crooning show tunes and golden oldies, slowly achieved worldwide acclaim for their sold-out performances of contemporary and classic rock/ pop songs. Director Stephen Walker’s documentary—originally produced for British television—follows the group over the seven-week rehearsal period preceding a May 2006 concert in their hometown of Northhampton, Mass.

There is an initial jolt of glee (and humor) at the sight of dozens of octogenarians bellowing their renditions of The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and “Yes We Can Can” by Allen Toussaint over the exhortations of their 50-something director and benevolent taskmaster, Bob Cilman. There is shared puzzlement when Cilman introduces “Schizophrenia” by Sonic Youth onto the concert playlist. And, there is poignancy in observing these children of World War II, having lived through the Vietnam and Iraq War eras, breathe unique meaning into the Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime.”

However, what Young@Heart — the film and singing group — really underscores is a juxtaposition of the unquenchable lust for life with the ever-impending specter of death. While discussing an ill comrade during rehearsal, Cilman matter-of-factly asks how many in the group have ever had last rites prematurely administered. A lead singer’s impinging senility regularly causes him go blank during “Purple Haze.” “You don’t get out of this world alive,” quips Fred Knittle, an ailing ex-member who returns for the North Hampton concert. And, to that end, two members pass away during the mere seven weeks captured by this documentary.

Those in the Young at Heart chorus transcend the fragility of life by forging a collective that is more enduring that its individual parts. A show at a local prison goes on even as the group learns of the death of a longtime member. The devil on my shoulder would like to chalk up the conspicuously pensive expressions on the inmates’ faces to Walker’s creative editing, a desire for jailhouse privileges and maybe the hope for some time off for good behavior. Pish-posh. During the concert finale, I defy anyone to choke back a lump in their throat during the tender rendition of Coldplay’s “Fix You” as tribute to their fallen friends, accompanied by Fred’s solo and the metronomic beat of his oxygen machine.

The world presents challenges both big and small, whether it is misbegotten wars, economic difficulties, mourning lost loved ones or reviewing the latest Garry Marshall rom-com. Staying young at heart might not solve all of life’s problems, but it helps makes life a little happier.

Neil Morris

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