Film, 2011, 3.5 stars
Written and Directed: Thom Fitzgerald
What an amazing mix of hilarious and sad, heartwarming and soul-crushing this film is. I was blown away by the audacity of this movie (adapted from a play by the same author), and the pure courage of Olympia Dukakis, throwing fear to the wind as she grabbed hold of this part with both hands and didn't let go until she'd shaken it for all it was worth.
And yet... the writing misses the mark just enough. The humour flies into vulgar and unfunny when it should have walked the line just to this side of hilarious and black. To top it all off, right in the middle of amazing acting by Dukakis and Brenda Fricker, the writer/director throws in two-dimensional, irritating characters that drive you crazy. So many ups and downs.
However, I came away with a smile on my face, despite the tragedy and hopelessness, the flaws and the mishaps. The film lives and dies by its leads, and here I have nothing but praise. Dukakis and Fricker take a portrait of two old broads dealing with some of the most horrendous situations to a level that I couldn't have imagined. Fricker I believe had the hardest role - that of the invalid Dot - forced into dependence on her lover of so many years in a way that damages both her body and her stubborn Irish pride. But they manage, and quite well, with Dot's personable nature the perfect foil to Stella's brash, crass, trucker-dyke ways.
Stella is a loud mouth, someone Dot's family hates and has refused to accept. When Dot's interfering granddaughter tries to hurry up her inheritance by pushing Dot into an old folks home, Stella is powerless to stop her. The septuagenarians, together for 31 years, are not legally married, so there's absolutely nothing Stella can do to stop a court-ordered removal of Dot from their home.
Stella hatches a plan to bust Dot out of the nursing home and run off to Canada where they can get married, and thwart the court order tearing them apart. Once on the run they pick up a young male hitch-hiker named Prentice (Ryan Doucette), a wannabe dancer on his way home to visit his long-suffering mother and violent stepfather. Prentice starts to take turns driving, and to help the old couple fool the authorities and cross the border. At some point, he starts to feel like their son.
Dot doesn't travel well, and Stella is constantly torn between her obsession for the mission and Dot's failing health. They're both determined to push on though, even though the journey gets hairy at times. With liberal usage of the "c" word (with sometimes hilarious results) and a bent toward the ascerbic, we start to understand that these women would follow each other into hell, and that Stella isn't as strong as she seems, nor Dot as weak.
The humour is very up and down. Awesome, cheeky lines are punctuated with sitcom-level inanities, until we find ourselves a little exasperated with the writer/director who doesn't seem to have a handle on the tone he's shooting for. If he's trying to surprise us with Stella's absurd crassness he sometimes succeeds, but after a while even that loses its punch and begins to look like a desperate effort to shock rather than to show true emotion.
Where the film shines is when things get quiet. Dukakis and Fricker are such talents, when the director slows down, shuts up and gets out of his own way the women come to the fore. The subtle nuances of their love for one another come trickling through, and then the title seems to find meaning. The commitment of these two women to each other succeeds to burst through the clouds and bring on the sun, flying in the face of the most dire circumstances.
When all is said and done, I've never seen another film like this. I can't really make any comparison or draw any lines connecting this to a genre or category, except maybe road movie, but still, it doesn't fit that at all. This film stands pretty much alone as a monument to the inescapable and utterly forgotten-by-lesbian-movies part of life that none of us really want to consider - old age.
But guess what? Old age can be beautiful. Just watch these women and see.