Having been recently deemed a widower, Fred (Christopher Plummer) is persuaded to move home into a new apartment by his concerned, if rather assertive daughter Lydia (Marcia Gay Harden). Though he may be bitter, despondent and grouchy, Fred’s new neighbour Elsa (Shirley MacLaine) is quite the opposite, an eternal optimist and romanticist, desperate to find true love, with a hankering to one day recreate the famous fountain scene from her favourite movie, La Dolce Vita. Though her inclination to exaggerate the truth could land her in trouble, she charms Fred, and the pair realise that despite their age, it’s never too late to love again.
There’s no denying that Elsa & Fred is a cliched, predictable piece of cinema – but it’s been portrayed in affectionately conventional way. The old-people-gags do grow tiresome (an old lady listening to hip-hop in the car, oh how we laughed), while the angry old man who needs to soften up and change his ways is a character we’ve seen countless times before. But so what? Yes we know what’s coming, and that it’s likely Fred will alter his demeanour and fall in love, but it’s a tried, tested and triumphant formula and while not original in any way, it still makes for pleasant viewing on this occasion.
What does help tremendously, of course, is having two such remarkable actors in the leading roles, taking what is a rather mundane, at times mawkish screenplay, and bringing it to life. You’re guaranteed a touch of class where both Plummer and MacLaine are concerned, particularly the case for the former, who shines in this role. As two of the greatest actors of their generation, what they haven’t lost, is that charisma, that sparkle in their eyes. These are bonafide movie stars, both in their 80s, and we should cherish every new film that star in, and minute they spend illuminating the big screen.
Elsa & Fred is an undemanding, playful endeavour that is easy to enjoy. This charming little number won’t pull up any trees as such, but offers a gratifyingly light experience, that comes equipped with an endearing, almost enchanting tone. Which, for the most part, is down to the indelible use of the accordion. Mix that with two old people falling in love, and you’ve gone and triggered a big, healthy dose of man tears.