Director: Paul Andrew Williams
Stars: Terence Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave
2 (out of 5) Globes
The measure of a documentary’s cultural impact is whether or not a silly narrative film is made of it. It was inevitable that some filmmaker would get around to “Young@Heart,” a gruesomely manipulative look at a geriatric chorus that sings punk, rock and other songs that became popular decades after they stopped paying attention to new music. “Unfinished Song” (called “A Song for Marion” in its native England) is that one’s fictional counterpart, and it’s exactly what one would expect. Gemma Arterton plays Elizabeth, a nice, young woman who leads a pack of untrained olds introduced doing their version of Gnarls Barkley. Later she will introduce “Let’s Talk About Sex,” while her charges giggle in mock-outrage. It’s that kind of movie.
The wild card is Terence Stamp. He plays Arthur, a professional grouch who only warms — and then only slightly — for his wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave). Marion’s a sweet, warm bitty who won’t her terminal cancer interrupt her perpetual good mood. Because he hates fun in any form that isn’t his weekly pub night with the lads, Arthur deplores Marion’s singing group. It’s no spoiler to reveal that inevitable tragedy strikes, albeit a touch earlier than expected, and that this development will force Arthur to melt and maybe (holy crap) sing himself.
It’s saying something that Stamp has arguably never been more standoffish and intimidating. He terrorizes Elizabeth and her minions like he was his character from “The Limey” (albeit minus a scene where he shouts threats with blood on his face). It’s assured that he’ll chill out, maybe even regale us with some Sinatra. Watching an actor as pissy as Stamp navigate a shameless tearjerker is as sadistically entertaining as it was watching Tommy Lee Jones suffer through the marriage counseling movie “Hope Springs.” Both actors are clearly and amusingly uncomfortable and lost, their beliefs and attitudes challenged by every frame.
That’s no reason to forgive “Unfinished Song,” or even recommend it. But it is what it is, and for what it’s worth, it’s a tearjerker that spends most of its time as a light comedy, and casts actors who can fall back on charm. Redgrave hasn’t had enough prominent roles of late, and her appearance here is a reminder of what a delightful presence she lends to any movie. But “Unfinished Song” doesn’t deserve her, or Stamp, or Arterton, who’s effortlessly pleasant, hinting at deeper loneliness as a woman with no friends her own age. That the film could’ve been worse is a sad compliment, but it’ll have to do.