The elderly have never had it so good. As you’ll know from last year’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (a film that’s actually got Oscar buzz this side of the pond), should you need a hip replacement, you can easily obtain it – plus new friends, potential lovers, great grub, spiritual enlightenment and genuflecting servants – on a colourful break to the old country.
The directorial debut of Dustin Hoffman, 75, is similarly rose-tinted. Beecham House is supposed to be notable for being stuffed with retired classical musicians. In fact it also happens to be the world’s most opulent retirement home, all gazebos and croquet, high tea and satin day beds, staff who weep with inspiration and, apparently, full state funding. The house rivals Downton (whose luxy campery this much emulates); the grounds put Kew to shame.
No wonder it fails to engage with the vagaries of ageing. What we have here really is the high-school movie given a silver spin. Ronald Harwood’s script, adapted from his own play, follows the template familiar from Fame to The Muppets: there’s some bitching and bullying, in-fighting and ego-jostling, but everyone pulls together at the end to put on a show. Our prom king and queen, who need reuniting after, y’know, history, are Tom Courtenay and Maggie Smith; his sidekick is ladies’ man Billy Connolly, forever winking about “older men, vintage wines, seasoned wood”, while her confidante is dappy Sissy (Pauline Collins). Michael Gambon is a fez-wearing fright, Trevor Peacock a larky muddle.
Stereotypes are not shied from. The surroundings maybe high-end, but the soundtrack is middlebrow all the way. These people may have spent their lives devoted to music, but it seems what they really like doing is belting out tunes from Classic FM.
There’s the odd flash of Haneke when Sissy struggles with senility, but this is essentially a view of old age that would cheer even the most pessimistic. Hoffman has delivered a love letter to the elderly thesps of his adoptive country. We can forgive him its falsehoods.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010