Young@Heart’s worst enemy is its director, Stephen Walker, whose incessant pushing and prodding strives to manipulate in ways both needless and trite. Employing bouncy and melancholy music to forcefully heighten moods, interjecting himself into the proceedings via Nick Broomfield-style narration, and indulging in music videos whose corniness knows no bounds, the documentarian does everything in his power to muck up this tale about the titular Northampton, Massachusetts choral group of senior citizens (their median age is 80) who tour globally performing rock, punk, and R&B tunes. Naturally, the vitality of old age and the indefatigability of the human spirit are all relevant themes, here presented in a nonfiction format that favors aggressive isn’t-that-darling sentimentality by and large free of condescension. The film’s center is the troupe’s seven-week rehearsals for a new show that’ll premiere in Northampton, an endeavor in which members struggle to come to grips with Sonic Youth’s atonal “Schizophrenia” and James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” and in which health concerns inevitably play a troubling and tragic role. Convinced that singing does the mind, body, and spirit good, these singers display remarkable feistiness, determination, and open-mindedness. In their willingness to tackle songs not of their era or even their liking, Young@Heart captures the universal resonance of pop music, the film’s portrait of harmonious cross-generational dialogue epitomized by the sight of oxygen tank-equipped Fred—returning for one last concert—engaging in a virtual duet of Coldplay’s “Fix You” with a computer-screen video of a crooning Chris Martin. With bushy hair and a goatee ideally suited for a Muppet, group founder and conductor Bob Cilman exhibits compassion and friendship during times of sadness but also a no-nonsense toughness and frankness that’s in keeping with the film’s inherent refutation of the notion that being old is being dead. And though Walker refuses to let his story breathe sans embellishment, it’s hard not to be touched by the group’s performance at a local prison, the performers and inmates discovering solidarity in a shared familiarity with the desire for joy and sorrow of loss.
- Fox Searchlight Pictures
- 108 min
- Stephen Walker
- Bob Cilman, the Young@Heart Chorus
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