Made way back in 2008 but only just hitting UK shores on DVD, the film, set at Christmas, stars Martin Landau as Robert Malone, an aged bachelor on the cusp of senile dementia who spends his reclusive days as a grocery store clerk discussing improbable business ventures with his hapless boss, played by Adam Scott. In steps Mary (Ellen Burstyn), a beautiful stranger who asks the bewildered Robert out to dinner one day, to which he immediately says yes although his experience with dating is rusty at best. What follows is a tale of a blossoming love affair between two ageing lost souls in the winter of their lives.
Similar to Something’s Gotta Give (2003) in its depiction of a mature relationship between Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton, and also Away From Her (2006) with its portrayal of a ripened romance besieged by mental illness, the greatest fixture within Fackler’s film is the incredibly strong performances from two seasoned veterans who are on the top of their games here, with Landau demonstrating a mixture of charm and bashfulness and Burstyn never straying beyond amorous sincerity. Theirs is a romance built on common aesthetics of the genre; the awkwardly romantic first date, the ambivalence over who calls who first the day after, like a couple of youthful lovebirds, yet their maturity lends the film an originality that allows it to stand out amongst an increasingly generic crowd, offering an alternative to a genre desperate for originality.
Lovely, Still also serves as a refreshing reminder of the strengths of both Landau and Burstyn’s acting abilities, not that we actually forgot anyway, but it’s great to find a film that principally follows protagonists of a higher age group that doesn’t overly sentimentalise the relationship or delve the narrative into needless schmaltz.
In fact, the film takes on an unexpected twist that verges on Shyamalan territory (though don’t let that put you off), rendering repeat viewings wholly appropriate whereby the film becomes an entirely different experience, a twist that permits Fackler’s storytelling to become both sweet and sour, a third act reveal that is as gently heart-warming as it is poignantly heartbreaking. Visual flourishes further saturate Lovely, Still’s association with convention; split-screens are generously used, as is an expressionistic ambient colour scheme that matches the external coldness of the yuletide season with an internally warm glow. Fackler is a first time filmmaker whose confidence outshines the occasionally excessive use of the offbeat, which thankfully isn’t as indulgent as Marc Webb’s kinetic (500) Days of Summer (2009), and used only to complement the cleverly plotted narrative. It’s cinematic but on a very small scale.
Accusations of being overly cutesy and undeniably niche in terms of target audience are defendable, given that it reinforces the stability of this kind of mature character focus, letting its experienced stars deliver awards-worthy performances within a competently constructed genre film. That said, romance amongst the elderly is clearly not a money spinner, explanation as to why Lovely, Still won’t find as big an audience as it deserves on the small screen, yet if given half a chance, the film, despite a premise that may not be the most appealing compared to modern industry standard fare, is a tender assurance that growing old does nothing to still a beating heart.