Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 23 November 2008
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Young @ Heart
Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
From the very first scene when 92-year-old Eileen Hall breaks into The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” with a loud introductory yelp, we know we want her, and all of her Chorus mates, to stay. With an average age of 80, the Young@Heart Chorus, based in Northampton, Massachusetts prepares for its Spring Concert with a handful of challenging pieces, the two most devilish being Allen Toussaint’s “Yes, We Can Can” and Sonic Youth’s “Schizophrenia.” Eileen in the eldest among them, a Brit among all those Yankees, and it is apparent, one of the most beloved.
There’s also sweet-natured Joe Benoit, who's already survived six rounds of chemotherapy and can memorize lyrics after just one reading, and Lenny Fontaine, a former World War II pilot and the only one with eyesight good enough to drive. There’s lively octogenarian Dora B. Morrow, who provides the signature “owwww” at the beginning of James Brown’s “I Feel Good” and Stan Goldman who can’t seem to keep the beat or the lyrics straight on that song. Fred Knittle and Bob Salvini have recently rejoined the Chorus for the spring tour after serious, continual health problems that have left each of them a bit weaker but determined to perform.
50-something Chorus director Bob Cilman--a kind but stern taskmaster—leads his disparate, geriatric personalities with conviction. Cilman started the Chorus in 1982 with more standard musical fare for his senior population, discovering eventually that interest was sparked when rock, pop, and R&B tunes were introduced into the repertoire. Looking like a graying Eric Bogosian, with wilder hair, the baritone Cilman is also the group’s historian, the keeper of the story and the spirit. His devotion to the Chorus is apparent, even when he’s tough on the soloists. They do not always go gently into that good night when hassled by someone who’s most likely younger than their own children.
We learn that the Chorus will tour New England, the West Coast, and Ireland. They’ve already been to Europe and Australia. They serenade prisoners at the local jail as a kind of dress rehearsal for their Spring Concert series. A captive audience if ever there was.
Director Stephen Walker occasionally narrates the events throughout the six-week rehearsal period, injecting commentary and observations in a gentle British accent. Eileen is a natural favorite, of course, and he even has the crew follow her into her bedroom, being treated to some racy suggestions along the way. The camera follows many of the Chorus members into their homes and hospital rooms
With a collective group so precipitously on the edge of their expiration dates, some passages are to be expected, and they occur. One moving tribute occurs when Knittle’s solo of Coldplay’s “Fix You” takes on newly poignant lyrics, “When you try your best, but you don’t succeed/When you get what you want, but not what you need/When you feel so tired, but you can’t sleep/Stuck in reverse.” Knittle’s oxygen tank provides a rhythmic exhalation as he sings, like a chorus of sympathetic sighs.
There are several cutesy music videos, made just for inclusion in the film, and they're the only drawback in this otherwise bittersweet slice of cinematic life. I wanted to remain inside the Chorus members’ lives and foibles, becoming disappointed only when they were packaged in staged, choreographed production numbers, knowingly singing the lyrics to the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” or The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated.” The “knowingly” part is the problem; it’s much better when the group mixes incongruent words with their intrinsic innocence, trusting fearless leader Cilman to pull them through seemingly incomprehensible compositions.
Like the prisoners they serenade (and who enthusiastically receive them, by the way) the Chorus members are held captive, not by bars but by their own failing bodies. Music provides a way for them to temporarily soar past their mortal confinement. Walker provides a way for them to become truly immortal.