J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Unfinished Song: Lift Every Cranky Voice

It is hard to blame a working class misanthrope for being such a sourpuss.  He is surrounded by quirky old-timers.  Still, performing with his late wife’s swing choir might help the grouchy old widower.  Surely everyone will learn and grow from the empowering experience in Paul Andrew Williams’ Unfinished Song (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Besides his granddaughter, the only person Arthur Harris ever got along with was his beloved wife Marion.  Unfortunately, the ailing woman is not long for this world.  Harris does his best to make her comfortable, including schlepping her to and from her chorale practice.  Of course, he never joins in.  He just stalks about outside, chain-smoking and scowling at the world.

When Marion finally succumbs, Harris cuts ties to his resentful son James, essentially resolving to give up on living.  However, Elizabeth, the perky-on-the-outside volunteer choir director keeps popping round, slowly but surely luring him out of his shell.  It turns out grumpy old Arthur can do a bit of crooning himself.

At the screening I attended, several colleagues were openly mocking Song’s mawkishness (but yours truly scrupulously observed decorum).  They might have been a bit harsh, but there is no denying the film is loaded with enough saccharine to give lab rats cancer.

Frankly, Song is like two mismatched halves imperfectly squished together.  Terence Stamp’s work as Harris is uncompromising honest and admirably understated.  Viewers will really wonder what he is doing in a maudlin film like this, instead of something with a bit more edge, like Harry Brown. Likewise, former Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston gives an unusually sensitive yet down-to-earth performance as the estranged grown son.  However, every scene featuring Vanessa Redgrave’s impossibly chipper Marion Harris and her plucky choirmates becomes a goey bacchanal of sentimental indulgence.

If you could not get enough of the Young@Heart chorus getting down with a decidedly contemporary repertoire in their eponymously titled documentary than Unfinished Song is surely your cup of tea.  However, general audiences will face a potential risk of sugar shock.  Only for Terence Stamp’s die-hard admirers, Unfinished Song opens tomorrow (6/21) in New York at the Paris Theatre.

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