I’m fully behind the rise of OAP cinema, if there actually is a nascent subgenre forming (see also The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). Or should I say, British OAP cinema (I’m not including Amour, which is a chin-stroking affair for middle-aged types). I don’t know if the appeal is a nostalgic twinge for the days of ruling classes and Empire (the British in India, the cultural hierarchy of opera), a desire to see an assembly of the great and good of British thespdom, or simply of movies catering for certain age groups so rarely. But the fact that these films have been sizeable hits suggests there’s a sizeable gap in the market waiting to be plugged.
So it’s a shame that this dramedy about concert put on by a retirement home for musicians is so laboured. The scenario is acutely artificial (apparently Verdi founded such an establishment in Italy, but its occupants are generally not in the fine fettle we see here, and most likely they don’t reside in such opulent surroundings), and as such it encourages a population of larger-than-life characters to act out theatrically broad and melodramatic scenarios. There’s never any doubt that the home will make the money it needs, nor that the contrived estrangement between two of the leads will end in reconciliation. Sometimes this kind of approach wins through despite itself, the pleasure deriving from the sheer familiarity of it all. But this one just plods along.
As you'd expect, the home is populated by quirky, loveable, idiosyncratic luvvies. The quartet comprises Maggie Smith, Tom Courtney, Pauline Collins and Billy Connolly. The first three deliver expectedly solid performances, Collins proving particularly appealing with her dottily palatable version of onset dementia. And Michael Gambon has fun as the resident grouch. Sheridan Smith is completely unconvincing as the anti-Nurse Ratched, who cheerfully indulges her patients little foibles (hers is the Dev Patel youthful part). Connolly does his usual thing as the recovering stroke victim who gives voice to his every rascally randiness. I’ve a lot of time for the ever charming comedian, but he fails to convince both physically and vitally here. You still expect him to go leaping round the room at any moment (director Dustin Hoffman originally offered the role to Albert Finney and Peter O’Toole). Everyone gets their own comic/dramatic moment (aren't swearing pensioners adorable?), but at a pace that is not so much lethargic as comatose.
It’s all very genial, spineless and heartwarming. Particularly unconvincing is Courtney explaining how rap is kind-of like opera to a group of surprisingly credulous school kids. No doubt Robin Williams would be employed for this in US version of the film, but it’s no less patronising or desperate in its attempt to claim relevance for opera (Courtney delivers a monologue on how the upper classes appropriated the performing art for themselves). Director Dustin Hoffman never makes the stage origins less than obvious (Ronald Harwood adapted his own play). The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is no less of a fantasyland piece, but it has a genuine spring in its step and so manages to muster significantly more goodwill.