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Elsa & Fred
Elsa & Fred is basically your typical manipulative, predictable and overtly whimsical Hollywood romantic comedy, except with an elderly couple as its subjects. The fact that it throws in a hacky Nicholas Sparks-style bus stop romance novel ending doesn't help matters much. Yet the whole thing won me over while managing to suppress my cynicism with its charm, natural performances and overall positive outlook towards gaining new experiences during even the last few years of our lives.
I'm aware that perhaps I'm giving Elsa & Fred a bit of a pass that I otherwise wouldn't have if this same story was about a younger couple. This is kind of a "Beggars can't be choosers" situation. Since there aren't a lot of other light and fun romantic comedies aimed at senior age audiences, Elsa & Fred wins by default as the perfect date night movie for septuagenarian couples. Let's face it, if they want to see a romance with protagonists their age, the choice is between this and Amour, and I'm willing to bet that Elsa & Fred will be a way less depressing experience. At least no couple will feel forced to talk about euthanasia afterwards. Gee, that'll put the brakes on your romantic evening, am I right?
The American remake of the 2005 Argentinean film Elsa Y Fred, Elsa & Fred sets out to prove that there isn't really an age limit for portraying a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, the term used to describe the exaggerated whimsical and full of life female characters made popular by Natalie Portman in Garden State and Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown. Elsa is a 70-something widower who lives in a fantasy world, is a compulsive liar and is obsessed with the infamous Trevi Fountain sequence from La Dolce Vita. She is also infectiously energetic and charming, so who better to play her than Shirley MacLaine?
When another widower, the cranky and ornery Fred (Christopher Plummer) moves next door to Elsa, she becomes obsessed with bringing Fred out of his tough shell. As the two gradually fall in love, they begin to realize that it's never too late for brand new feelings and experiences. If that sentence was cheesy enough to make you throw up in your mouth a little, one, you're not the target audience for this material, and two, what did you expect?
It really helps when you have legends like Plummer and MacLaine to elevate some of the tired clichés of the material. Let's face it, these two can read a grocery list and make it sound compelling. The rest of the impressive cast, including Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden, actually bring their A game to such a breezy project. Director Michael Radford is no lightweight either, he's an eclectic artist who helmed the best adaptation of 1984 so far, as well as the 90s popular romance Il Postino. With Elsa & Fred, he doesn't create his most memorable film, but manages to bring on some of the European charm that made Il Postino so palatable.
Elsa & Fred's 1080p transfer stays loyal to the film's digital cinematography source. When seasoned directors who are used to working on film switch to digital, for some reason their visual output has that distinct overly clean and bright look. Elsa & Fred is no exception to that rule and ends up mostly looking like a TV movie, so I guess watching it on a small-ish HDTV instead of the big screen is not such a bad idea.
In true romantic comedy fashion, especially for one that's about senior citizens, Elsa & Fred's DTS-HD 5.1 presentation brings an adequate and audible mix of dialogue and the occasional score without almost any surround presence. The disc also comes with a lossy 2.0 track, which should work fine while listening through TV speakers.
Making Of Featurette: This is a standard 20-minute EPK with the cast and crew talking about their creative processes in bringing the film to life. Nothing groundbreaking but informative nonetheless.
It's a bit saddening to watch a film that focuses so much on the Trevi Fountain sequence, since we just recently lost Anita Ekberg, whose angelic presence in La Dolce Vita created one of the most iconic images in film history (And made audiences believe in the supposed romanticism of the film while Fellini was actually trying to create a scathing satire on the spiritual emptiness of such a lavish lifestyle, but that's a discussion for another time). Elsa & Fred is a romance that is truly romantic at heart. Take it with a grain of salt, but enjoy it nevertheless.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com