Joyce Glasser reviews The Time of Their Lives (March 10, 2017) Cert. 12, 104 min.
For the past ten years, demographics have been influencing the number of films starring older actors and aimed specifically at older audiences. They tend to be either ensemble comedies like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Last Vegas, The Stand Up Guys and Golden Years; or star-led comedy/dramas such as Florence Foster Jenkins; The Iron Lady (both Meryl Streep); Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood), Grandma (Lily Tomlin), Dirty Grandpa and The Intern (both Robert De Niro); Mr Holmes (Ian McKellen) ; Danny Collins and Manglehorn (both Al Pacino); Gloria (Paulina Garcia) and the upcoming Aquarius (Sonia Braga); or couple dramas like Hope Springs (Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep); Amour and Radiator. There are also romantic comedies like Last Chance Harvey (Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson) and now, a road-movie, romcom entitled The Time of Their Lives.
At the premiere of The Time of Their Lives, starring Joan Collins (83), Pauline Collins (76) and Franco Nero (75), Collins called on the movie industry to make more movies for older cinema-goers. Ten years ago, that call was urgent. Today, it is not quantity that is needed, but quality, because too many films made with the grey pound in mind patronise and alienate the very viewers they are meant to be attracting.
Helen (Joan Collins) is an unhappy resident of a nursing home and when we first see her, she is smartly dressed and applying heavy make-up and a dark-haired wig. She is also hatching an escape plan. In a few minutes she will be herded into a coach for a day out at the seaside.
Meanwhile, in some dull suburb, unhappy housewife Priscilla (Pauline Collins) is shown no sympathy by her husband of 30 years, Frank (Ronald Pickup) when she remembers their young son who drowned when she took her eye off him for a second. He blames her to this day, and this pent-up blame and grief manifests itself in a shop where Frank berates her in public for her choice of biscuit. Helen, on a pit stop, happens to notice. Through a contrived mix-up Priscilla ends up in the coach which is about to be hijacked by an old geezer so that Helen can take the Poole to Cherbourg ferry to the Île de Ré.
By then Priscilla has recognised Helen as her idol, the former celebrity star Helen Shelly. Priscilla is apparently so star struck that even after Helen steals her wallet, she prefers a Thelma & Louise adventure with Helen to her dull life with Frank. That does not change when Priscilla saves a drowning toddler by jumping into the sea and Helen monopolises the media attention – although the bemused press hasn’t a clue who she is. Frank and their daughter see Priscilla on TV and go off to bring her home, never imagining that she will have transformed into Shirley Valentine by then.
The urgency behind Helen’s trip is a bit of a muddle. Apparently, she has learned that the funeral of her former lover, the director of what appears to be the only hit film, will take place the following day on the island, and a number of big producers are expected to fly over from Hollywood.
Helen tells everyone that she hopes to renew her showbiz contacts at the funeral and get work. Despite a lame leg, Helen looks pretty good for 83, but the likelihood of her landing a picture at this funeral is less than zero. In addition to her age and absence from the screen, we discover that her narcissism has burned too many bridges even for a sympathy role.
When Helen stops off at her former lover Alberto’s (Franco Nero) house before the funeral, she is struck by his daughter, Lucy’s (Joely Richardson) resemblance, not just to her father, but to Helen. Lucy has the same inkling but cannot forgive the woman who apparently abandoned them. Even with this sentimental strand (both Helen and Priscilla have ‘lost a child’) it seems the real reason for Helen’s trip was business not a family reunion. In this regard, the script is a bit of a mess as Helen could use some redemption. She is so unsympathetic, needy and embarrassing that either way, she will alienate people.
The film is not only a late coming-of-age movie (for Priscilla), but a buddy road movie and a romcom, so it should be a welcome change when the romance arrives in the form of Alberto. But Alberto is a cad, playing both women against one another and then, though aware of Helen’s ego, making a blatant move on Priscilla. There is almost no discussion of art of course, or anything as cultural as a tour of the island.
On this road trip you can amuse yourself, however, by playing spot the cliché. Writer/director Roger Goldby gives us the doddering care home folk; the unhappy housewife; the husband who cannot leave his newspaper or come to terms with the loss of a child; the Norma Desmond fading star, and the conveniently single Italian stallion. The almost inevitable heart attack of any character over 50 is such a cliché that it is hardly a spoiler to mention that you have that, too, to look forward to.
The Île de Ré is tantalising, and Joan and Pauline throw themselves into their roles, valiantly trying to inject humour and pathos in the spaces left for these emotions. The still incredibly handsome Nero is given nothing to work with save two ill-advised nude scenes.
Joan Collins’s wish is coming true, and we will keep you posted on a promising number of films this year that feature older actors and actresses. But it is a form of age discrimination to deny those actors interesting characters and to patronise the audience.
You can watch the film trailer here: