Well, what can you say? Jane Fonda and Robert Redford are back together on the big screen a mere 51 years after they first appeared in the same film. They were husband and wife in The Chase way back in 1966, then again in Barefoot in the Park, before their third outing as the curmudgeonly horseman and urban journalist in The Electric Horseman. And here they are again, two Hollywood stars as noted for their social commitment as much as their beauty, in Ritesh Batra’s Our Souls at Night. And suffice to say that age cannot wither these two, who maintain a kind of magic when they are on screen together.

Batra, who attended Redford’s Sundance Institute, made a name for himself with The Lunchbox, an unusual romance that begins in epistolary form via a misdirected tiffin carrier. This is also an unusual romance that starts with an equally unusual premise. Louis (Redford) is an elderly widower in a small town. He keeps his house spic and span and enjoys simple pleasures: a good meal, a crossword and coffee with the old boys in town. One night his neighbour Addie (Fonda) knocks on his door and gives him a proposal, of sorts: would he like to come over and sleep with her? Not for sex – she claims not to have thought about it in years – but in order to get a good night’s rest with the help of someone by her side. When he agrees to her idea, so begins a friendship that blossoms into real love.

Our Souls at NightEverything about the two seems pretty idyllic despite their widowhood. They are healthy, well off and have grown children, as well as a circle of friends. Yet as the film progresses, we learn more of their respective pasts and discover that life has been complicated and tragic for both. The couple share difficult relationships with their offspring: Louis’s daughter Holly (Judy Greer) has struggled to put her father’s past misdemeanours behind her, while Addie’s son Gene is angry and troubled. He dumps his son on nanna and between them the elderly couple create a safe and happy environment for the child, perhaps trying to atone for the mistakes of the past. And it is Gene who represents the biggest obstacle to them being together.

The film depicts elderly people simply as people. They are flawed, funny, sexual, jealous, just like the young. It reminds its audience that parents are fallible and that their children find this hard to forgive. It also depicts the perils of ageing and the awareness that death is not far in the future. Both lead actors have spoken of their interest in making a film about and for an older generation, one which is often sidelined by major studios, and Fonda has had huge success with the Netflix series Frankie and Grace. While this film (also a Netflix production) might not immediately appeal to younger viewers, they should watch it if only to be reminded that those boring old farts were – and possibly still are – just like them, only in a more dilapidated form.   

Robert Redford and Jane Fonda make such a magnificent couple, still exuding beauty and intelligence; particularly Fonda as Addie, who positively shines. This may not be the best of their four films but it is a lovely way to end an onscreen relationship that has certainly lasted longer than most marriages. Batra has imbued the film with warmth and his ending, like that of The Lunchbox, is one of hope. Ageing sucks for lots of reasons, but this film shows you that if you are lucky with your health, you can live, love, screw up and make up just like you’ve done all the rest of your life.