CATEGORIES Documentary, Music & Musicals, SXSW, Theatrical Reviews, Fox Searchlight, Reviews, SXSW Film Festival, Cinematical
Some movie plots are so basic that they "seem to write themselves," and in the case of the simple-yet-charming Young @ Heart, we have a documentary that pretty much writes itself. It's such a basically appealing concept -- a choir full of (very) old people spend their free time singing rock tunes for some very appreciative crowds -- that all you'd need is a guy with a camera and some sound equipment to capture the footage. And that's pretty much what Young @ Heart is: a slight but well-polished documentary about an inherently worthwhile story.
Northampton, Massachussetts is where you'll find the Young @ Heart crew singing their hearts out. Under the guidance of choir director Bob Cilman, the Y@H chorus is comprised of some seriously sprightly senior citizens. Even the ones who can't move around all that well are so passionately devoted to the group that just their participation is slightly inspiring. As the films opens, we're invited to meet some of the choir's more colorful singers, and we tag along as the crew gets ready for a big-time concert at the Academy Theater.
So it sounds pretty sweet -- but maybe a little dull, right? Could be, except for the fact that this choir sings tunes from artists like Coldplay, The Clash, James Brown, The Bee Gees, The Ramones, Sonic Youth, The Police, David Bowie, Talking Heads, and a whole bunch of rockers that most grannies haven't even heard of! It sounds like a "precious" little novelty, but Cilman and his singers take their performances pretty seriously. (And they practice a LOT!) Director Stephen Walker is to be commended for treating his elderly subjects like plain old grown-ups -- and not circus acts deserving of coos or coddling.
If Walker lays it on a bit thick with his (often unnecessary) narration and a few "twinkly" musical cues that dance dangerously close to Sap Country, the missteps can be forgiven in the face of such warmth and sincerity. I mean, it's pretty tough to knock a group of old folks who still get together for the simple love of music -- plus they're actually really good! I don't mean that in a "for a bunch of old folks" sort of way, either. Walker stages several very funny low-budget music videos for the choir -- and there's one moment during the final concert that's so sincerely moving it's almost painful.
As far as subjects for documentaries go, the Young @ Heart choir is what you could call a "no-brainer." You get some great musical bits, the human interest angle of "elderly folks doing something very cool," and - let's face it -- the built-in drama that arises when the singers are forced to deal with ... absent friends. Thankfully, Walker and company keep the sadder moments from being exploitative, and the end result is a very sweet film that simply wants to celebrate things like friendship, talent and passion.