Canadian auteur Bruce LaBruce opened the Venice Days sidebar of the Biennale’s 70th incarnation with Gerontophilia (2013), a romantic comedy (of sorts) following 18-year-old Lake (Pierre-Gabriel Lajoie), who finds himself increasingly dissatisfied with his girlfriend and at the same time attracted to older men. In order to further investigate his newfound fetish, Lake gets a job at a local nursing home for the elderly, where he gets his jollies giving the elderly bed baths and drawing them while they sleep. He becomes particularly attached to octogenarian Melvin Peabody, played with a scene stealing charm by Walter Borden.
With Lake’s growing affection towards Melvin also comes anger at the way the old are treated – or, more accurately, not treated – but instead discarded by a society that has no further need for them. Lake decides to help Melvin escape in order to follow his dream of one day seeing the Pacific Ocean. The ostensible theme of Gerontophilia – the way in which we abandon the aged – is summed up by Lake’s girlfriend, Desiree (Katie Boland). “I think what you are doing is truly revolutionary,” she explains. But her advocacy is almost worse than condemnation, as she herself is an oddly dated caricature, and who insists that Winona Ryder be included in her list of radical icons – “Stealing is always revolutionary.”
Gerontophilia covers much the same ground as Hal Ashby’s 1971 classic Harold and Maude, and does so with substantially less charm. It’s attractively shot by Nicolas Canniccioni and the soundtrack features a jolly collection of contemporary indie music, though LaBruce tends to rely on a sprightly musical sequence every three minutes to give us a break from the acting. The acting is almost universally awful – with the exception of Borden – and the script doesn’t help in this regard, with several scenes feeling half-written at best. “Let’s be friends,” a new worker at the nursing home suggests. “Okay,” replies Lake. Perhaps this cloth-eared dopiness is supposed to be wryly undermining filmic dialogue conventions; perhaps not.
The shock value of the film’s subject matter mixes with a focus on patients in vulnerable situations being manipulated by their carers for their own sexual gratification. LaBruce wants both the camp snigger and the startled gasp, whilst also for us to take Lake seriously – which, unfortunately, is hampered by his lead’s blank impassivity and sheer lack of charisma. Despite the occasional line of sparky wit, Gerontophilia is a missed opportunity to shed light upon an interesting and seldom discussed peccadillo. As it is, it creaks its way through a series of predictable plot beats before finally giving up the ghost.
The 70th Venice Film Festival takes place from 28 August to 7 September, 2013. For more of our Venice 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.