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Movie Review: Young @ Heart

This new documentary tells the uplifting story of the band by the same name. One look at the trailer and we were hooked. Here's what our reviewer thought.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

YoungAtHeart1.jpg

Name of film: Young @ Heart

Director: Stephen Walker, who also narrates

Cast: Members of the Young @ Heart chorus and musical director Bob Climan

The story: This documentary follows a senior citizens chorus learning new songs to add to their rock, punk and soul music repertoire in preparation for a live concert.

Review: The incongruous idea of septuagenarians and octogenarians singing raucous rock, rap and punk songs might at first glance seem like a novelty, a gimmick good for a passing chuckle and a footnote in the book of Guinness World Records. After all, the youth-obsessed music business considers those over 40 to be dinosaurs. But in the pitch-perfect documentary Young @ Heartnamed for the Northampton, Massachusetts, group whose choral endeavors it chroniclesthat notion is quite joyously turned on its ear.

British filmmaker Stephen Walker spent several months with the Young @ Heart Chorus as it rehearsed for a May 2006 hometown concert entitled Alive and Well. His cameras captured participants as they tried to master the intricacies of Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia," James Brown's "I Got You (I Feel Good)," and the 71 repetitions of the word "can" in Alan Toussaint's "Yes We Can Can."

Several seniors in the 26-year-old group prove to be worse studies than others. The members have an average age of 80 and minimum age of 73, with tastes that (some confess) run closer to opera, classical composers and show tunes. But their shared love of music emerges as a constant in the film under Walker's intimate—but not intrusive—direction.

We get to know 83-year-old great-grandmother Dora Morrow; Lenny Fontaine, the designated carpool driver who celebrates his 86th birthday during filming; vigorous Steve Martin, owner of a caricature-type figurine labeled "Sexy Beast"; and Eileen Hall, 92, for whom singing "keeps your brain going. If you don't use it, you lose it," she reminds.

Then there's Joe Benoit, who remains upbeat and enthusiastic despite a recurrence of cancer. And Bob Salvini and Fred Knittle, whose health problems forced their retirement—but they have been recruited to duet on Coldplay's "Fix You." Knittle, dependent on an oxygen tank but strong of voice, is ever the jokester. He refers to his comeback as not a swan song but an "ugly duck song." He tries to keep the mood light. But it's apparent that he, the increasingly frail Salvini, and Benoit are in precarious health. Whether they'll make it to the concert is a question that looms over the proceedings. This, along with the dwindling rehearsal time to prepare for the concert, infuses the narrative with real drama.

It's a film full of poignant, emotional moments, not the least of which comes as the chorus learns some sad news moments before performing for inmates in a prison yard. In true trouper fashion, they go on—and dazzle. The scene exemplifies the spirit of these singers, underscored again after even more tragic news on the eve of the concert.

However, Walker injects levity throughout via amusing MTV-style music video versions of David Bowie's "Golden Years," the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive," Talking Heads' "Road to Nowhere," and a hospital-set take on The Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated."

Ending on an emotional high note with the "Alive and Well" concert, Young @ Heart is an uplifting tribute to its life-embracing subjects.

Rating:

View the trailer for Young @ Heart »


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