Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Moved by Young@Heart

(Sorry to those to whom this post was emailed twice... it disappeared from my site and I had to re-write it. Blogger treats that as a new post.)

Let's take a break from Theme Park Mania for a day, shall we?

Last week I read an article (warning, the linked article contains a major spoiler that I wish I hadn't read before I saw the movie) about a new documentary coming out called Young@Heart. It follows a group of seniors (their average age is 80) who travel around singing songs by the likes of Sonic Youth, The Ramones and Coldplay. I looked into the movie a little bit more and read nothing but absolutely glowing reviews. And then I happened upon passes for a free screening that was being held in Chicago last night... so I went.

I seriously contemplated writing only one line for this post... something like: "Young@Heart--just go see it, trust me." I strongly believe that everyone should try and catch this movie one way or the other, even if it means waiting for it to come out on DVD. But the reason that I decided to write a full post about it is that I'm going to go against the grain and criticize the film just a tad. Yes, I thought it was great and I do recommend it highly to everyone, no matter what your tastes are... but the movie could've been awesome, and I blame the director Stephen Walker for its shortcomings.

First off, I think that documentaries are much stronger if they "show, don't tell." I'm not a fan of narration in these types of films, and Young@Heart had a lot of narration, most of which was totally unnecessary. I got the sense that the director (who was also the narrator) just wanted to hear his own voice. For example, why did he have to include a voice-over that explained that the group had three weeks to go until their big show and that practices were therefore being more frequently scheduled? Just have "Three weeks before the show" in text over the beginning of the scene and get on with it. Or have some of the people in the choir explain their schedule.

Secondly, there should have been much more focus on the individuals in the group than there was. The audience learned hardly anything about the lives of the spotlighted chorus members... we only knew about their most recent health issues and what their current living situation was. But I would've loved to have heard about what they all did in their careers and other interesting tidbits about their long lives. Instead, there were only brief snippets with some of the group members and way too much time spent on the practices leading up to the big show.

Finally, I didn't like the inclusion of "music videos" that were spaced throughout the film (such as 'Stayin' Alive' and 'I Wanna Be Sedated'). They gave the documentary a cheesy vibe that it wouldn't have had otherwise. Those videos would have been great as DVD extras, or maybe one of them could've been played over the end credits, but to have included them in the actual film used up time that would've been better spent on getting to know the individual members of Young@Heart better.

All that being said, the vast majority of the 107 minutes you'll spend watching this movie are enjoyable. I'm not going to lie and say that there aren't some sad parts--my eyes and nose were red for a good hour after the movie because I was crying so hard (as was almost everyone seated around me--I looked). There are also some scenes that are literally hard to watch. One of the main singers, Stan, has a debilitating spinal condition and you know he must be in great pain just to stand up and walk over to the microphone (even though he never complained or voiced any discomfort, and is the one in the picture above with his hands up!). And it is tough to see some of the members struggling to remember just one or two lines of a song.

But the reason I highly recommend Young@Heart to absolutely everyone is because of the message it sends, which greatly overpowers all of my nit-picks. You may remember the soft spot I have for the elderly from a previous post on this subject. My Grandma R and Grandpa O are two of the coolest people in the world, are in their 80s, and are a huge inspiration to me. And that's how I felt about the seniors in Young@Heart, many of whom are convinced that they would not still be around if they weren't singing. Their drive and motivation to perform with the group was absolutely amazing. They all had great personalities; my favorite was Fred, who has a deep, deep voice like Johnny Cash and who loved to get a rise out of people with his goofy one-liners. "You don't make it out of this world alive, that's for damn sure," was his best one.

When I rode home from the theater last night, I definitely had a different attitude and perspective on all of the lame little things that I worry about or complain about. When you see people in their 90s rallying for a sold-out theater performance and singing to prisoners and spending hours practicing on a weekly basis, it makes you feel a little bit sheepish about the sore legs you have from running around Orlando for 3 days.

And please don't be scared off by the fact that I bawled my head off during this movie... I would not lie to you--there is happiness in the sadness that is filmed, and I personally believe that the world would be a much better place if everyone paused now and then and thought about what they want out of their lives and what kind of legacy they're going to leave. Young@Heart will make you do just that, and you'll have fun in the process.

I promise.

Here is a trailer for the movie below (I wouldn't watch any other clips from the movie if I were you, as the other ones I've seen all contain spoilers). Unfortunately, since Young@Heart is a documentary, it's a little bit hard to find in theaters. The list of cities and dates it is playing is here (scroll down a bit on the page that opens).

If you are able to catch it, please let me know if I was right-on with my comments. And if you have ever actually been lucky enough to have seen the group perform live, by all means let the rest of us know!

- e

1 comment:

Wanders said...

I have added this one to my Netflix queue. Thanks for the recommendation. Great preview!