Unfinished Song shouldn't be seen by anyone looking for a geriatric version of Pitch Perfect. But Paul Andrew Williams' new film offers an unexpectedly poignant look at the last days of an unlikely marriage.
Terence Stamp, as spiky and intimidating as what's left of his hair, plays Arthur, a brusque, old Englishman caring for his dying wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave). Marion has decided to face her last days with what her much younger physician calls a "chips and ice cream" resolve. That is, with the time she has left, Marion should eat as much of both as she wants. She spends what's left of her days with her husband, son, and granddaughter. She spends her evenings singing Motörhead and Salt-n-Pepa songs with other retirees as part of a community choir.
Arthur remains skeptical of Marion's participation in the choir. Several shots show him standing outside the community center, disdainfully smoking hand-rolled cigarettes like some teenage outlaw from an American International Pictures quickie. But his views change after his wife's death, when he strikes up a tentative friendship with Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton), the choir's irrepressible teacher.
Stamp's handful of scenes with Redgrave show the big and small ways a seemingly mismatched couple survives and grows together. Even when they're fighting, this old yellow pair conveys the sense that their squabbles are actually a crucial expression of their hard-won love for one another.
Redgrave is so expressive and gentle in Unfinished Song that she inadvertently upstages Arterton, who enters Arthur's life as a much younger version of the woman Arthur married. Arterton exudes the self-deprecating fearlessness typical of the best teachers. The sensitivity and kindness she displays with ease is a bracing contrast to her savage, mesmerizingly sexy performance in Neil Jordan's vampire saga Byzantium, which had a limited theatrical release this year but is currently available on demand.
Writer-director Williams reserves most of his visual poetry for a two-minute span involving a flickering streetlight, an impromptu funeral solo from an Indian woman, and a keening wail behind closed doors.
Opening Friday, July 12th