What makes Lovely, Still‘s fairy-tale schmaltz so rank isn’t simply its excessiveness, but the fact that writer-director Nik Fackler believes that having two senior-citizen acting legends headline his film somehow excuses its mushy corniness. From soaring orchestral music and soft-focus slow-motion waltzes in falling snow to incessant Christmasy music and laughable lines like “This is what love is” during a tale that takes great pains to depict only a fantasy vision of romance, Fakler’s debut revels in sentimentality with such enthusiasm that it proves wearying.
The focus of this slop is Robert (Martin Landau), a lonely soul who works as a grocery store bagger and, when at home, wraps ominous holiday presents for himself. Robert’s solitary existence is alleviated by friendship with his young boss (Adam Scott) as well as by new neighbor Mary (Ellen Burstyn), who—despite her daughter’s (Elizabeth Banks) undefined concerns—shows up on his doorstep and immediately becomes his devoted girlfriend. Robert’s sudden good fortune is preposterous, just as he and Mary’s personalities and feelings for each other are superficially sketched and everyone’s backstories are nonexistent save for tossed-off asides about the past. Consequently, unlike Sarah Polley’s superior kindred spirit Away from Her, Lovely, Still‘s portrait of late-life love is excruciatingly shallow and phony, its each dramatic scenario and incident more one-dimensional than the last. Complicating matters, however, Fackler suggests via sub-David Lynch panoramas of kaleidoscopic colors and helter-skelter images of children jumping and people speaking—sequences that may be Robert’s tormented dreams—that everything is not as it appears.
Given that everything appears cringe-inducingly syrupy, this is not an initially unwelcome suggestion. Unfortunately, the most undesirable revelations are the very ones ultimately proffered, with Fackler flipping his material from being a bit of one-last-chance amorous pap (colored by melancholy over aging) to a belligerently mawkish snapshot of end-years infirmity that’s calculated to produce extreme heartstring-pulling. During this offensively manipulative finale, Burstyn delivers the film’s single authentic moment with a silent, tearful reaction to inevitable tragedy. Yet it’s not nearly enough to atone for the preceding gooeyness, nor for countless demeaning close-ups of Landau speaking goofily into the bathroom mirror, brushing his teeth and flossing, which reduce the once-dignified star to a grotesque caricature.