USA, 2008, 90 min, English
Saturday, Oct. 3, 7 pm, North Shore Cinema
Sunday, Oct. 4, 1:15 pm, Oriental Theatre
In its heartwrenching reality as well as its surreal fantasy portrayal, Lovely, Still works on a lot of levels. On one hand, it works as a near-textbook transference of the “puppy-love” concept normally reserved for the youth-obsessed demographic. Conversely, it is also a study in the end-of-life issues that ultimately nearly all people face who live to experience old age.
Martin Landau, whose resume may be limited only to his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood in the mind of the postmodern filmgoer, fits with ease into his role as Robert Malone. A beguiled and ultimately timeless figure whose grandfather-like presence serves as an anchoring point for the film, Robert stumbles with an endearing innocence through the first two scenes. It is through his eyes that we see the majority of the story unfold, however reliable his perspective may or may not be.
We come upon Robert as he is toiling away at a menial job at a local store. His existence is seemingly innocuous – a permanent bachelor of considerable age in a nearly unrelatable culture more suited for someone half his age. He comes home from work to find his front door open and an equally elderly woman named Mary in his living room. It is in their initial awkward exchange that Robert first sees what seems to have been missing all along, in his mind – a potential whirlwind romance with a woman he finds completely captivating.
But the story shifts to lighter moments as well. Mike, a character originally perceived to be Robert’s boss at the store, is a constant comedic foil through the film. His slightly askew take on modern selling and people-pleasing runs directly counter to Robert’s new-found innocence. Additionally, Mary’s daughter is ably played by the always-bankable Elizabeth Banks. Her portrayal of the perpetually worried daughter of an aging widow is at once brief and enthralling.
If there is any clear flaw within the film itself, it is the overuse of some simple Hollywood cliches: Christmas lights that illuminate at just the right moment; snowfalls that conveniently wax rhapsodic with their breadth and angle; and, the aforementioned “heart-string-tugging” of a score heavily laced with strings. These elements, combined with a slight overstating of Robert’s naivety, serve to make the overall experience a suitable stage to be set for the film’s conclusion.
The third act of the film is obviously its most poignant. The disconnected dream sequences of the previous act are supplanted with more direct and confusing images and situations. Robert’s increased vulnerability is apparent in these scenes, with dramatic shifts in music and camera cuts that more closely mirror Burstyn’s earlier work in 2000’s Requiem for a Dream.
It is difficult to discern if, after the film’s disturbing turn of events in the final 30 minutes, what the viewer has witnessed is a reliable depiction of events. One can only imagine that it is a well-crafted blend of fantasy and reality, memory and delusion. In his debut as both a writer and director, 24-year-old Nicholas Fackler seamlessly blurs those lines between perception and reality that make a film like this one worth seeing again and again.
What did you think about Landau’s performance? Did you get to meet him while he was in town?