Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
June 27, 2013
*1/2 (out of four)
At last, Salt-N-Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About Sex” has been sung the way it was meant to be performed: by a group of randy, British senior citizens.
There’s nothing wrong with that community acknowledging the aspects of their lives that aren’t often discussed. However, the characters in the painfully cutesy “Unfinished Song” don’t talk about sex. They just sing and giggle about it, and writer-director Paul Andrew Williams treats the subject matter with no more maturity or honesty than the people who supposedly assume that libidos have no place in the twilight years.
Terence Stamp (General Zod in “Superman” and “Superman II”) stars as Arthur, who spends most of his time waiting outside buildings looking unhappy. This includes killing time while his wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) participates in a seniors’ choir reminiscent of the misguided 2007 doc “Young At Heart.” Marion’s group sings material like Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and is directed by Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton of “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters”), a volunteer who teaches teenagers by day and, as she says, “even rowdier seniors at night.” You can see where this is going.
Despite Marion’s cancer returning and “Song” containing a painful plotline about a husband confronting his wife’s imminent death, the film often emphasizes shenanigans like a choir member propositioning a judge so he’ll advance them to the next level of a competition and Elizabeth dressing up her singers in heavy metal attire to sing Motorhead. On screen, it looks as unsettling as pets unhappily forced into costumes on Halloween.
Unlike “Quartet,” Dustin Hoffman’s dopey dramedy about veteran singers who we never saw sing, “Song” does feature numerous musical performances. Arthur’s song—come on, you knew he'd get in on the action—is a heartbreaker. Rather than the stripped-down reality of Michael Haneke’s “Amour,” though, Williams aims for zany and strikes out constantly. He also depicts Elizabeth as a neurotic mess, as if that’s the only way pretty single women can be drawn on film. Yet the filmmaker does little to pay attention to her personal life.
“Unfinished Song” tries to touch on a father reconnecting with his son (Christopher Eccleston) but forgets to address what separated them in the first place. It’s too tickled by the singers, who are rarely developed beyond “the horny woman,” “the black guy,” etc., belting “Love Shack” and Arthur expressing distaste for “hoppity-hop.” Don’t cue the tears; just the montage.
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