Two of our greatest living actors – Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn – help the otherwise-generic Lovely, Still get over most of its screenwriting speed bumps although a twist in the final act makes the genuine nature of the first half of the film ring false. The problem with gigantic twists, even when they're as obvious and telegraphed as this one, is that they can often make the audience feel cheated. When two actors as amazing as Landau and Burstyn bring characters to this kind of three-dimensional life, it can feel like a cheap trick to radically change our perception of what we've just seen and emotionally invested in. For every twist that works to make a film more powerful, there are two or three films where it had the opposite effect. (Go ask M. Night Shyamalan if you don't believe me.) And I believe it's the disingenuous nature of the final act of Lovely, Still that has forced the film to sit on a shelf since its Toronto Film Festival premiere in 2008, only now getting a minor release in major markets two years later. There's nothing minor about the central performances in this film, even if they're in the pursuit of something that just doesn't quite work overall.
Landau plays Robert Malone, a cranky old man with few friends who crosses paths with the still-gorgeous Mary (Ellen Burstyn) when the neighbor accidentally walks into his home thinking that it's her own. The idea that love can still crash through our front door long after we've assumed it would no longer knock is spectacularly rendered in the dating period of these two lovely people. Watching Robert nervously get ready for the date says more about the charming insecurity of this irascible man than any piece of dialogue could do. Landau and Burstyn have remarkable chemistry, fully embodying these roles without ever making them feel archetypal or overplayed. Adam Scott (Piranha 3D) and Elizabeth Banks co-star in small-but-interesting roles.
If debut writer/director Nicholas Fackler had simply tried to tackle the under-populated genre of the elderly romance, Lovely, Still could have been a great film. The performances are great. But it's almost as if he decided that a love story between his two leads wouldn't be enough for a drama and that he needed to radically alter the film in the final act. Sure, some may say that the final act is what the film was about all along and that the first two are merely set-up for what Fackler intended overall but I found the set-up so much more effective than the follow-through that I choose to look at the film as a beautiful romance about two people falling in love stuck inside what is ultimately a relatively manipulative and exploitative drama about old age.
Rating: TWO AND A HALF BONES
Reviewed by Brian Tallerico (MovieRetriever.com Film Critic)
Release Date: September 10th, 2010
Starring: Martin Landau, Ellen Burstyn, Adam Scott, and Elizabeth Banks
Director: Nicholas Fackler
Writer: Nicholas Fackler