It’s never too late to fall in love. It’s a message that is cropping up more and more in films these days, and Michael Radford’s film, Elsa & Fred, puts this sentiment right in to the spotlight. In fact, it kinda beats you over the head with it. A remake of the 2005 Argentinian film of the same name, Elsa (Shirley MacLaine) is a free-spirited seventy-something who’s unbridled search for happiness in life has been both to her advantage and often her detriment. Newly widowed Fred (Christopher Plumber) is the exact opposite – grumpy, bitter, and content with spending all of his days in bed, never leaving the house. When Fred moves in next door to Elsa – as you can imagine – the pair don’t mix well. But Elsa is determined to show Fred the greater things in life that he is missing out on, including a last chance at love.
While I think the notion that life doesn’t end when you turn sixty is a great one and an important one, Elsa & Fred just doesn’t cut it in the old-people-falling-in-love sub genre, which has already been securely covered by hits like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Michael Radford’s re-working relies heavily on a cliched plot and revolves around two characters who seem too extreme to be true – Fred is simply too bitter, too grumpy, and it has somehow taken some 70-odd years for him to realise he’s led an unhappy life. Then, on the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s the self-absorbed Elsa, who is obsessed with seeing her life play out like an old, romantic movie, to the point where it adversely impacts those around her. I didn’t believe in the characters, I didn’t buy their relationship and, just like the roles they were playing, MacLaine and Plumber’s performances too fell flat.
I could maybe forgive this film for its unrelatable characters if there was something – anything – else to capture my attention and pique my interest. But sadly, from the inane screenplay, to the dull-as-dishwater sub plots, to the predictable end, there was just nothing to grab a hold of. There was nothing substantial, nothing meaty to sink your teeth into; it felt akin to ordering a juicy eye fillet at a steakhouse and having the waiter bring a single lettuce leaf to your table. The film meandered by without moving me in any way shape or form, and I was honestly surprised to discover the film only ran for a mere 94 minutes. It felt like a lot longer to me.
It’s unfortunate that so many of these films based on later-life romances seem to continually miss their mark. Elsa & Fred is just the latest to fall victim to an ever-growing pile of forgettable rom-coms, but without much rom or com, there’s really no wonder as to how it ended up there.