MIFF Movie Review: ‘Elsa & Fred’
FFCC critic Kai Sacco reviews Elsa & Fred, the opening night film of the 2014 Miami International Film Festival.
ELSA & FRED
★★ out of ★★★★
By Kai Sacco | March 11, 2014
I’ve seen three of writer-director Michael Radford’s films: Il Postino (1994), The Merchant of Venice (2004) and recently, Elsa & Fred. The first I remember liking, but was so young when I watched it—six, to be exact—that a critique would be ridiculous; the second I found to be an admirable Shakespeare take, but poorly directed; the third I found of no real value, with a dull screenplay and terrible direction plaguing leads Christopher Plummer and Shirley MaClaine. I’ve never intended on viewing Radford’s entire filmography, but because of Elsa & Fred I won’t even entertain the idea. How can such an amateurish work come from such a veteran talent?
A remake of a 2005 Spanish-Argentine film bearing the same name, Elsa & Fred tells the story of two elderly apartment neighbors who become romantically entangled despite their traveled ages. Elsa (MaClaine) is a cheerful retiree with mythomania, and Fred (Plummer) is a widower who assumes the clichéd I’m-too-tired-old-and-angry-to-talk-to-you role.
There’s some funny banter here and there, but it’s overshadowed by an incredibly lazy script that cuts corners on narrative progression, not taking time on crucial character moments. The direction also misfires with a host of scenes and establishing shots (yes, establishing shots) that feel shorter than they’re supposed to. The moment they fade-in, they’re already fading out. It was an enormous curiosity to me throughout the entire duration of the movie as to why it was happening. Usually, it means that the editor didn’t have a long enough, unscathed portion of that footage in order to be able to let it play out naturally and instead had to trim, trim, trim to make it somewhat presentable—that’s on the director.
Earlier on in the film, Elsa’s son, Gavin (Scott Bakula), spouts an insensitive line toward his mother, questioning her relationship with Fred, and it made me believe a better story was on the horizon: ‘What’s the point at this stage in your life?’ She replies, ‘Because he makes me happy.’ Not cool, Captain Archer. Not cool at all.
Cast & Crew
Christopher Plummer as Fred Barcroft
Shirley MacLaine as Elsa Hayes
Marcia Gay Harden as Lydia Barcroft
Scott Bakula as Gavin
Erika Alexander as Laverne
George Segal as John
Chris Noth as Jack
James Brolin as Max Hayes
Jared Gilman as Michael
Wendell Pierce as Armande
Directed by Michael Radford
Screenplay by Anna Pavignano and Michael Radford
Produced by Matthias Ehrenberg, Ricardo Kleinbaum and José Levy
Cinematography by Michael McDonough
Film Editing by Peter Boyle
Production Design by Stephanie Carroll
Art Direction by Christina Eunji Kim
Runtime: 1 hr 44 min (104 min)
Release Date: TBA 2014