Market Day
2006 Heinz Award: Dr. William H. Thomas

Guest Blogger: Susan Harris

[EDITOR’S NOTE: A drawback I hadn’t considered in choosing Portland, Maine, as my new hometown is that not many movies play here, particularly compared to New York City.

The Boynton Beach Bereavement Club is an important, new movie to Time Goes By, but I’m unlikely to see it until it’s released on DVD so when Susan Harris of GardenRant and Takoma Gardener offered to review it for TGB, I jumped at her suggestion. She titles her piece Boynton Beach, Hotbed of Eldersex and I thank her for a terrific critique.]

Boyton_beach_club_postersmall_1 BACKSTORY First, I love the whole back story of The Boynton Beach Bereavement Club. Indie writer/director Susan Seidelman of Desperately Seeking Susan fame was inspired to write it by her mother who lives in a south Florida retirement community and had “stories to tell”. Mom Seidelman not only co-authored the script but served as the movie's producer, which means she scouted locations, hired extras, the whole enchillada.

When they approached the movie studios with their idea, they were told there's not enough commercial potential in this demographic, but they disagreed. After all, industry surveys show that viewers older than 50 now comprise 23.9 percent of the movie audience, a figure that's rising steadily. So the Seidelmans opened the movie themselves, with Mom handing out flyers and putting up posters in the delis of West Palm Beach, and after what one industry wag called a “cult following” in south Florida, it got picked up nationally.

THE MOVIE
My friend Joell and I were your TGB test audience and we both give it a thumb's up for its honest, sensitive portrayal of retirement community residents without reliance on tired-out, ageist stereotypes. (Okay, there were two arguably ageist bits - a view of water aerobics filmed underwater, flabby thighs and all, and the early-bird special, Chinese buffet - but they were funny.

Joell and I were both surprised that this so-called comedy was so much about the loss of a spouse, grieving and fear of loneliness. So poignant, so sad at its heart. And I'm not giving anything away because it starts with the accidental death of a really great guy out jogging and dancing to his iPod and the grieving of his wife, the ever-lovable Brenda Vaccaro at her very best. Actually, the whole cast is excellent, something reviewers agreed on.

ELDERSEX
But how about that eldersex? Well, it's not unlike teenager sex in movies - following characters as they date, buy condoms, get naked for the first time, and learn to drive. Except these folks are in their 60s and 70s, the point being that when it comes to the search for romance, we're always teenagers, something I can attest to from my own years of middle-aged dating. Best pick-up line: “By the way, I can drive at night.”

Still want to know more, you voyeurs? Okay, there's a flash of Sally Kellerman's breasts and two couples get it on off-camera. Probably too much sex for the Christian Coalition, but just fine in this sweet movie.

A COMPLAINT
I know one movie can't say everything, but we see so many desperate woman here and I can't help suggesting it's time for us to reconsider our assumption that we need a man in order to be happy. After all, while men older than 60 are hot commodities, the odds against women of a certain age finding a man are, frankly, grim.

I'm reminded of a wonderful mother-in-law I once had who lived in North Miami and saw the desperation all around her. Her proposed solution to the problem; "The ladies should try going lesbian.” Now there'screative problem-solving for you, and there are a lot more options, like finding our passion in gardening or blogging or a million other pursuits.

Plasticsurgerysmall PLASTIC SURGERY A lot has been written about the obvious surgical interventions on the faces of Sally Kellerman and most especially Dyan Cannon. Having been taught never to say mean things about people's looks, I'll just note what a relief it was every time the camera alighted on natural-looking faces. Natural-looking bodies, too, wearing clothes for grown-ups. Cannon is still lovable but her age denial is sometimes uncomfortable to observe.

THE REVIEWERS Knowing that Ronni's readers would be just as interested in reactions to the movie as the movie itself, I've read all the reviews I could find. They were generally favorable with scattered complaints that it's lightweight or “sitcom-y.” I agree, but do we really want a steady diet of On Golden Pond? I think not. Many critics noted the movie's humanity and sensitivity, and even applauded its focus on the issues and concerns of a “vast, overlooked demographic.”

So how do the reviewers rate on our ageism-ometer? I'm happy to report finding no egregious insults. The worst offender was The New York Times reviewer, who complained that the movie presented a “rose-colored fantasy of aging” because it “omitted talk of surgery, blood pressure, cholesterol, arthritis and the thousand other health concerns of older people.” Well, excuse us for having a life!

Actually, I'd like to counter with the reminder that characters in this movie dealt with loss, visits to the pharmacy, insurance forms, lapsed driver's licenses and patronizing comments about their ability to understand - not exactly the most fun aspects of aging.

One reviewer who stood out for his sensitivity is worth noting because he's a kid - specifically, a member of Brown U's class of 2008. His is the only review I found who mentioned the importance of friendship in the movie. (Especially touching was the grieving Brenda Vaccaro character telling her new best friend, Dyan Cannon, “You're the best thing that's happened to me all year,” and Cannon saying, “Me too.” I loved that!)

This young reviewer even suggested it's a shame that the fat ladies in the movie don't get partners, which is true but not something I even noticed. So the next time we all fume over some thoroughly obnoxious comment by a young person, I'll remember this guy and have hope.

One odd note: three different reviewers referred to the cast as baby boomers, so I wonder if the term is becoming synonymous with old people - at least to distant observers who don't know that boomers are still in their 50s and younger than anyone in the cast, thank you very much. As a true boomer myself, let me say: Don't rush us.

TRENDS
To Hollywood, “older audience” means viewers older than 25 and those older than 50 are virtually invisible. But change may be afoot. Think Ladies in Lavender, Calendar Girls, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Waking Ned Devine and World's Fastest Indian. And let's keep reminding Hollywood decision-makers that Driving Miss Daisy earned $100 million back in the day.

And there's some good news in this Washington Post piece about older folks on television. We're told that “Old is the New Young,” whatever that means, and that a whole slew of talented actors older than 50 are starring on TV. Seems that instead of targeting all their shows to the young, more programmers are using a big-tent model and going for “tonnage,” a rather weird term for large numbers of viewers. “Get enough audience and the demographics kind of take care of themselves.”

And maybe young viewers aren't so myopic after all because three out of four of the shows most popular with 18-to-34-year-old viewers are CSI, Desperate Housewives and House, all with stars way older than that coveted demographic group.

So check out The Boynton Beach Bereavement Club and thanks Ronni, for the invitation to play film critic/culture critic/know-it-all.


Comments

susan, yours is the kind of review that i want to read. you tell me just enough to make me want to see the movie. thanks too for reviewing the reviewers!

Oh, I will certainly be looking for this movie! Interesting comments throughout the review, but the fact that the term "baby boomers" is now becoming synonymous with old people brought me up short. I knew this, it is my generation and we are aging, but the change in the connotation came as a bit of a shock.

Thanks for sharing this wonderful review, Ronni It was such a pleasure to read and made me look forward to seeing the film. If the grotesque plastic person in that picture was Dyan Cannon I am very sad.
Happy New Year to you and Ollie!

That was a great review and if I get a chance to see it, I will try to get there. I also have limited choices where I am. I think it's important to go to the theater sometimes to put money toward the type of films of which I would like to see more. I remember when I saw the Ya Ya one and the theater that day in Tucson had a lot of people for the first showing in town-- mostly older women. We can be brought out.

I think you are onto something about the baby boomer. Perhaps the media types are using it to indicate a way of looking at life more than a number.

Regarding the phrase "baby boomer" becoming synonymous with the word "old", we've discussed this several times before at TGB such as in this piece.

As much as it irritates me - those of us who are not boomers being lumped together with them - I fear we are stuck with it even though many of our needs, attitudes and points of view have as little relationship to boomer-era people (especially the youngest ones) as apples do to oranges.

What? Baby boomers aren't elders? It irritates you to be lumped together with them? Who knew?

Have you seen "In Her Shoes" - it came out last year and the portions at the Florida retirement home are hilarious. I love that movie & think it should have done a LOT better at the box office.

My favorite all-time movie about getting older/retiring/coping with change is "About Schmidt."

Warning: both of these movies require a box of kleenex nearby.

I arrived here courtesy of the Takoma Gardener but I may stick around. This sounds like a great movie.

Glad to read this review about a movie that sounds quite good.

Thanks Ronni, for inviting these reviewers to write it up for us. Thanks to the reviewers for writing it up so well.

BTW, I keep wondering why this continued misunderstanding about the term elder, I have occasionally read here in comment.

Too bad some don't understand that BABY BOOMERS CAN BE ELDERS. It's not complicated. The term baby boomer is a chronological age group, along with other older age groups, encompassed within the term elder.

On Monday night my husband and I were invited by the Austin film society to a special showing of The Boynton Beach Bereavement Club. If it were actually playing in Austin, I would have talked about it on my own blog, but it hasn't opened here. As a Boomer over 55, I'd like to join your discussion, instead.

There's a great deal to like about the movie, as long as you realize that it's a fairy tale set in a warm weather retirement community where all the houses are much nicer than those of most senior citizens that I know, and the characters are mainly intelligent white folks between 55 and 70. None have dependent grandchildren and none of the 60+ women were seen driving their own aged parents to the doctor. [I told you it was a fairy tale.]

The cast was the attraction for me - especially long-time favorites like Len Cariou of "Sweeney Todd", the ever more amazing Brenda Vaccaro and brilliant actor/writer Joe Bologna, who all gave solid, grounded, wonderful performances. [Joe's wife and co-writer, Renee Taylor, has a minor, but critical role, too.] Sally Kellerman still has talent and that seductive voice, and since Diane Cannon was playing a flake, she did quite well with her character, but as Susan noted, both actresses are very thin, very blonde and very 'lifted' in appearance.

Like Susan's young correspondent, I noticed a bias in the romance department. Len Cariou and Michael Nouri are considered romantic leads, even though both are grey and have chunked up a great deal, but only thin blondes were considered suitable as female candidates for romance. During one skating scene I was missing the dialogue while worrying about osteoporosis and broken bones. This bias may be a reflection of reality, but still deserves dishonorable mention.

Some of this movie was silly, none of it was nasty and most of it was genuinely touching and quite funny. I also give the filmmakers points for not portraying this age group as stupid, lascivious or out-of-touch, as so many comedies have done.

Yeah, go see it if it comes to your town!

Annie in Austin

Wow! Having spent the week shuttling my elderly Mom and aunt, 82 & 85, to doctor's appointments and surgical appointments it was a real surprise to me to read this and realize that I AM an ageing baby boomer and not next on the list for what's in store but, actually, on the list!!!

The review makes me want to see the picture. My last DVD viewed was "Miss Henderson Presents" and I thought it wonderful. Judi Dench is fantastic as the widow who still wants a life beyond crocheting and charity organizations. It spoke to the young woman who still resides in this aging body.

Thanks for the guest blog review. I will look for the movie here in Madison, WI.

As a pre WWII baby I am not a boomer however my interest seem more like theirs than the generations ahead of me in this aging business.
There were so few of us born in the 30's and early 40's our viewpoint has been ignored since the baby boom generation dominated everything.

Susan, best review I've read in ages.
Ronni, thanks for introducing Susan to us. Will wait patiently for the DVD as we are in rural area also :)

Hi Susan

What a great review that was, I read it several times, you had so much "meat" in it.

I saw "The Boynton Beach Club" in Florida last winter. It's just being shown in New England now. When it comes to my local theater I'll see it again!

When you referred to that "really nice guy" that dies at the beginning of the movie, that was Mal Z. Lawrence.

He makes the circuit in the Florida condo's and whenever he appears at my condo I go see him, must have seen him at least six times over the years.

I had heard that he was in "The Boynton Beach Club" and was so looking forward to seeing him in it and then, what do you know, he dies at the very beginning!!

If you enjoyed the movies you mentioned, you should go see "Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont" starring Joan Plowright.

I wrote a short review on it on September 10.


I saw a review/preview of this film on television & I can't wait to see it.

Born in 1947, at 59. I am an elder of the Bsby Boomer era. My "little" 44-yr-old brother, born in 1962, is a "kid" of the era. He tells me that age is just a number. I tell him to me that when it affects his life every day. I can't wait to say, "I told you so!"

Susan you never cease to amaze me with your insight, sense of humor AND exceptional writing ability. A GREAT review!!!

Great review, Susan! I'll definitely look for it. As a 30-year old, I too am looking for more diverse representation in films. It's just more interesting to watch "real people," not the eternal 20-somethings Hollywood presents us with.

I loved this review, and I agree with every point you made! I've reviewed this film myself on my blog at http://betterthanieverexpected.blogspot.com/2006/09/boynton-beach-club-film-review.html .

I loved how older people (people my age!) were portrayed honestly and sensitively. The jokes were sometimes cheap and old, but I could overlook them, because I was so happy and relieved to finally see older-age relationships portrayed realistically.

Joan Price
Author of Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty

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