Director Susan Seidelman's Boynton Beach Club (renamed for DVD from its original theatrical title, The Boynton Beach Bereavement Club) is a fairly entertaining look at the romantic pitfalls and joys of the residents of Boynton Beach, an "active adults" retirement community in Florida. Starring a cast of pros, including Joseph Bologna, Dyan Cannon, Sally Kellerman, Len Cariou, Brenda Vaccaro, and Michael Nouri, Boynton Beach Club humorously looks at the dirtiest word in the American lexicon - no, not "racism" or "war," but "aging." Laid back in its comedic approach to the tribulations of late middle-aged romance and sex, Boynton Beach Club may not be profound, or even particularly well structured, but it does illustrate a subject that is conspicuously missing from our TV and movie screens, while providing a fine showcase for some of our more talented (and underutilized) actors.
The film starts with the death of Marilyn's (Brenda Vaccaro) husband Marty, who's accidently backed over by a careless women leaving her house. Having difficulty dealing with the death of her husband (as well as the loss of her safe, comfortable life that she had grown to love), Marilyn takes the advice of Lois (Dyan Cannon), an interior decorator who shows up unannounced at Marilyn's house, to join Lois' Boynton Beach Bereavement Club, a support group dedicated to widows and widowers. While Marilyn struggles with living alone, she becomes friends with Lois, who has become involved with Donald (Michael Nouri), a businessman who quickly sweeps Lois off her feet.
At the same club is Jack (Len Cariou), a newcomer to the group who several months before had lost his high school sweetheart and wife of 45 years. Jack, old fashioned and lost without his wife, is genuinely perplexed (as well as pleasantly pleased) when Sandi (Sally Kellerman), a direct, sophisticated widow, asks him out on a date. Luckily for Jack, he finds at the club a mentor and friend in Harry (Joseph Bologna), a cocky, skirt-chaser who will guide him through the perils of widowerhood.
There's certainly a sunny, cheerful attitude to Boynton Beach Club that belies the emotions of loss and grief that surround the central catalyst for the movie, and in one way, that's to Boynton Beach Club's benefit. This movie doesn't wallow in pathos; the emphasis is on life and love, and the difficulties that come with trying to reconcile both after having been in a long-term relationship that ends in death. But the carefree spirit of Boynton Beach Club also works against any kind of lasting meaning to the proceedings, as well. Scenes are set up to be poignant (such as Jack reacting to going through his wife's possessions with his daughter and granddaughter), but are soon undercut or abruptly ended all together. In fact, many scenes in Boynton Beach Club are all set up, and no pay off. A good case in point is Jack's granddaughter. Director Seidelman takes the trouble to highlight the character (who's decidedly out of place, dressed as a Goth, among the senior citizens) several times in the first part of the film, creating the impression that she will have at least one scene of importance in the story. And when Seidelman gives her a visually strong moment, where she walks past staring seniors on her way to the pool, we the audience are all set up for a comedic scene of some sort. However, that's it. The scene ends; she doesn't even reach the pool. What happened? Did her part get cut out of the final edit? Or couldn't Seidelman figure out something to do with her? Jack's daughter also has several scenes -- all of them to no avail as far furthering any point Seidelman may have been trying to make with her inclusion.
Much of Boynton Beach Club is like that; scenes are unmotivated, or poorly structured, with jumpy connections to previous moments. When Sandi first asks Jack out, he's firm in saying no. But their next scene together is a date at a restaurant, with no explanation as to how Jack got to the point where he'd agree to go out with her. For a lighthearted comedy that also wants to have scenes that really mean something, this haphazard approach doesn't spell slice of life, but rather unfocused dramatic fuzziness. It doesn't help matters that Seidelman uses, in addition to the obvious oldies tunes that telegraph a scene's dramatic point, a terrible, plink plinky score that screams, "I'm a cute movie! I'm a cute movie!" every time it meanders over the sun-drenched images. Scenes that could really have had a genuine impact, and that could have made Boynton Beach Club more than just a pleasant, well-meaning diversion, are spoiled by this insincere, unconvincing score.
Luckily for Boynton Beach Club, there's a terrific cast of performers who give restrained, low-key performances, and who help keep the audience bouncing over the various plot holes and shaky internal dramatics. It's great to see Vaccaro, Cannon and Kellerman in roles that don't embarrass or demean them, just because of their age. All three are fortunate to have found a story that deals tastefully and honestly with aging. What's really a shame is that today's mainstream film industry has little room for actresses of their experience; at least the indie market offers a balance to that inequity. Cariou and Nouri also keep their dignity with the potentially broad material, but it's really Bologna who steals every scene he's in. I've always been a big fan of Bologna's work, and I don't think he ever really gained the kind of name recognition with the public that he deserved. Always playing his scenes with a lot of intelligence and energy (but never over the top), he easily stands out from the other underplayers, and adds another funny, memorable character to his long list of career highlights.
Boynton Beach Club is brightly, crisply lensed by Eric Moynier, and the 1.85:1, anamorphic widescreen is visually quite nice.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 soundtrack is more than enough audio for this dialogue-driven film. English subtitles are also included.
There's a fun, informative, full-length commentary track by director Seidelman, along with a trailer for the film.
The central performances of Boynton Beach Club more than make up for a jumpy, jerky script that tends more towards isolated comedic vignettes rather than a carefully built dramatic whole. Still, Boynton Beach Club should be applauded not only for its charming, effective group of actors, but also for taking on a subject that nobody in mainstream films seems to want to touch. I recommend Boynton Beach Club.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.