DIRECTOR: Michael Radford

CAST: Shirley MacLaine, Christopher Plummer, Marcia Gay Harden, Scott Bakula, Chris Noth, George Segal, James Brolin


RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes

RATING: 3 stars (out of 5)

Theresa Smith

Elsa & Fred is a sweet story that reminds you that it is never too late to make your dreams come true.

Based on a Spanish film (by Marcos Carnevale) of the same name, Michael Radford’s version gives us Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer as the titular couple who discover love with each other. It is a simple enough story which relies on the two strong leads to keep our attention from the otherwise saccharine plot, and they work well together.

The two create characters whom we believe as real. Fred (Plummer) is a pessimist, set in his ways and more than a little world-weary, while bubbly, optimistic Elsa (MacLaine) loves trying new things.

Bereft at the loss of his wife of many years because of routine rather than missing her, depressed Fred does as his control-freak daughter Lydia (Harden) suggests, move into a smaller flat. But, he can’t muster up the energy to get on with life.

Slowly, next-door neighbour Elsa draws him out, though, with her vivacious, and let’s be honest, kooky, personality. Fascinated by Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, Elsa wants to recreate the famous fountain sequence, but more than that, she totally believes in living life to the fullest. She also has a fluid relationship with the truth which the more strait-laced Fred struggles to reconcile with his growing fascination with this flighty butterfly.

The shift from them being crabby neighbours to in love happens so suddenly it feels a sequence is missing and some scenes are played as if this is supposed to be a screwball comedy about ageing, which it is not, so the editing is somewhat erratic. It takes a while to realise this film is set in New Orleans because the visual context of their building and the streets they move through are filmed very tightly, concentrating on the people and not showing much else.

Lydia, and Elsa’s son Raymond (Bakula), and their families are also in the background, but we don’t really get to know them because the camera mostly stays on the older couple.

What saves the film from the doldrums is Fred wallowing in the gentle sense of two otherwise dormant lives stirring. He gives in to curiosity to be swept up into her fantasy and both of them get a second shot at life rather than just waiting for death, which is what their families seem to expect from them.

If you liked Five Flights Up or And So It Goes, you will like this.