A grumpy man learns it is never too late to fall in love
Two seniors discover it is never too late to discover love and romance in Elsa & Fred. Director Michael Radford is probably best known for Il Postino: The Postman. The gentle story in Elsa & Fred would be less entertaining if not for charming lead performances by Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer, proving that age is no impediment for talented actors. A very capable supporting cast led by Marcia Gay Harden and Scott Bakula round out this quiet wisp of a movie, which does not aim beyond its romantic intentions. Its believable love story is a sweet tale, one that will resonate deeply with fans of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita.
Based on a movie originally from Argentina, the gentle romance in Fred & Elsa proves that love can be found at any age. An elderly man that recently lost his wife moves next door to a free-spirited woman, opening his life to new possibilities and happiness. Fred (Christopher Plummer) is a grumpy man, unhappy his daughter (Marcia Gay Harden) has hired a caregiver to take care of him. It seems life has worn him down and Fred is content to be a miserable person. Elsa (Shirley MacLaine) is the carefree spirit that lives next door, a woman with boundless energy for her age. She is a romantic at heart and obsessed with Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, imagining herself as Anita Ekberg. Elsa has a good heart, even if she happens to wander into her own private fantasyland on occasion. Are these caricatures? Yes, but they are entertaining caricatures taken from life.
A very capable supporting cast led by Marcia Gay Harden and Scott Bakula round out this quiet wisp of a movie.
Elsa’s jovial spirit becomes infectious as she spends more time around Fred, opening up his life for the first time in many years. Romantic movies often fail if the couple have no screen chemistry. Christopher Plummer is masterful as Fred’s personality transforms, reflecting the positive effect that Elsa has had on the miserable senior citizen’s life. For her part, Shirley MacLaine commands Elsa almost as well. Her character’s freedom of spirit is what drives the movie, yearning to replicate the famous fountain scene from La Dolce Vita. It’s a sweet nod to the older classic, eventually proving to be an important part of the story.
Elsa & Fred could have been a bland romance for the retirement set. What elevates it above the typical geriatric romance is an inoffensive sweetness and two strong lead performances. Some elements are a little bland, the supporting cast isn’t given much to do with their limited roles. This is not a film one will watch over and over again – it is a little too predictable. Considering everything, I enjoyed it as a charming romance. Chris Noth and James Brolin make blink-and-you-will-miss-them cameos.
Independent distributor Millennium brings Elsa & Fred to Blu-ray in fine form. The movie’s cinematography lacks flash if you disregard one black-and-white scene. Included on a BD-25, the 97-minute main feature is encoded in AVC with sufficient clarity. Averaging 20 Mbps, the reasonably clean production is free of artifacts. The film is presented in a 2.35:1 widescreen transfer.
The picture quality itself is mildly sharp with solid definition. An even contrast and excellent color rendition leaves an almost neutral palette with unaffected flesh-tones. This is not an overly detailed image brimming with high-frequency content, resulting in a mildly dull presentation. The transfer appears to have been left free of serious processing, as there are no obvious indicators of filtering and sharpening.
There is some mild softness in the occasionally erratic cinematography, the focal depth is affected in a few scenes. The overall sharpness gets diminished in these scenes, producing slightly out-of-focus imagery. My sources indicate the film was shot on RED digital cameras, though it’s possible a lesser camera was used for pick-ups.
The film is driven by dialogue and its light instrumental score. This is an ordinary surround mix with solid fidelity. Elsa & Fred’s 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack occasionally opens up the rear channels for ambiance and musical support. There isn’t much bass, but dialogue is delivered in a clean, crisp manner. Nothing really stands out about the mix.
A stereo 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack has also been included. The English SDH and Spanish subtitles display in a white font, constantly within the widescreen framing.
One nice thing about Millennium’s releases is that the company has not switched to eco-cases like the bigger Hollywood studios. We don’t get anything more than a handful of standard-def trailers and one featurette, though the included featurette is pretty solid in covering most aspects of production.
Making-Of Featurette (18:51 in HD) – A nice documentary interviewing most of the cast and main crew, including director Michael Radford. It delves into the background behind making Elsa & Fred, including discussion of the laborious process needed for the Italian screenwriter to make the script in English. I thought I had a far better understanding of the film’s intentions after watching this piece. I also like its longer format, breaking it up into six three-minute segments would have lowered its entertainment value.
Elsa & Fred Trailer (02:16 in SD)
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.