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Unfinished Song

Is there a law that demands one major release per summer about characters struggling with aging, or is that all that Hollywood thinks there’s a market for? Last year it was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which had too many characters representing too many scattered approaches to have much impact. This year it’s this more low-key effort, originally titled Song for Marion when it closed the last Toronto Film Festival.

Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave star as Arthur and Marion, a British couple in their late 70s living in moderate comfort on a pension. Although Marion suffers from cancer, she finds joy in singing with a choir at the local senior center, where the volunteer director (Gemma Arterton) leads them through unlikely songs by the likes of Motorhead, Gnarls Barkley, the B-52s, and Salt-n-Pepa. (It’s a pretty good bet that writer-director Paul Andrew Williams saw the 2007 documentary Young@Heart, about a real chorus in Massachusetts with a similar playlist.)

Arthur, on the other hand, is a shy man who keeps the world at arm’s length with a scowl. Marion is the only person who has ever been able to connect with him, and though he won’t admit it he’s terrified at the thought of facing life without her, refusing to take comfort even from his son (an uncharacteristically scruffy-looking Christopher Eccleston).

Although it has touches in common with the recent Amour and Sarah Polley’s Away From Her, Unfinished Song is a more lightweight affair, content to telegraph its unsurprising plot turns well in advance. It’s a showcase for Stamp and Redgrave, here apparently acting together for the first time. They elevate adequate material into something special every time they share the screen. Be forewarned that the musical number that closes the film is guaranteed to have you reaching for the Kleenex.

Watch the trailer for Unfinished Song

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