ELSA AND FRED is the story of two people who, at the end of the road, discover that it's never too late to love. After losing his wife, Fred (Christopher Plumer) feels disturbed, confused and alone, so his daughter (Marcia Gay Harden) helps move him into a small apartment where he meets Elsa (Shirley Maclaine). From that moment on, everything changes. Elsa bursts into Fred s life like a whirlwind, determined to teach him that the time he has left to live be it more or less is precious and that he should enjoy it as he pleases.
‘Elsa & Fred’ is based on a 2005 Argentinian film of nearly the same name (‘Elsa y Fred’), and which must have been more entertaining and more meaningful than this remake. Sitting through this sincere, but slight romantic comedy didn’t inspire me to check out the original, and a second-chance repeat viewing isn’t very likely at all. The movie is simply too predictable and too flat to make 'Elsa & Fred' anything more than just a merely pleasant diversion. Anyone reading the plot description on the back of the Blu-ray should be able to forsee all the major events during the movie's ninety-seven minute running time with deadly accuracy, but here is my own summary just for good measure: Christopher Plumber plays Fred, a crusty old widower who is forced to move into an apartment near his daughter (Marcia Gay Hayden) so that she and her family can keep a watchful eye on him. He is constantly grumpy, and snaps at his family and friends like a year-round Scrooge. Next door to his new place is an eccentric but feisty “widow” (she listens to hip-hop music and spouts cutesy, Erma Bombeck-ish commentary) named Elsa played by Shirley MacLaine. She dreams of one day visiting Italy and reenacting a romantic moment from Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita.’ Guess what happens when they meet? Guess what happens as they get to know each other? Guess what happens when one of them gets sick? Guess how the movie ends?
Despite my general boredom with the by-the-numbers storyline, and my inert reaction to the painfully cute and kooky characters, this movie is hard to dislike completely, thanks to the always charismatic Christopher Plummer, and the general feel-good message of living life to its fullest, even in old age. I have such personal affection for the actor, that a scene in which he picks up a guitar made me cheer for an encore performance of "Edelweiss" just for old times sake. (It didn't happen.) Shirley MaClaine, never a particular favorite of mine, also scores points in making what could have been a repulsive characters trait (namely, that she’s been a chronic liar all her life) seem almost charming. Still, I found it mighty strange that actors of their profile would participate in a movie which could have made a generic appearance on the Lifetime network or any basic cable channel.
The movie isn’t as shamelessly and insincerely manipulative as it could have been (no prolonged death scene, no overlong soliloquys, no shots of bawling faces while violins soar on the soundtrack), but it’s still pretty contrived with inoffensive stereotypes (an African-American caregiver dresses inappropriately, but not too outrageously), cartoonish supporting characters (Fred’s son-in-law, played one-dimensionally by Christopher Noth, is described as being sleazy, but he seems more dim-witted and prone to hysteria than anything else), and over-the-top caricatures (a young dance instructor sneers at Elsa’s inquiries on dance lessons, but gets put in her place by some “witty” backtalk).
Our protagonists are also shown to be bothered and patronized by their ungrateful and selfish kids, and naturally, there are moments of defiance where the older generation takes a stand against the younger, but the dramatic effect is as light as the characterizations. Some scenes seemed to be played in a random loop in which Elsa and Fred meet up, Elsa offends Fred in some manner, Fred storms off in a huff, Elsa pleads for some understanding, then Fred laughs and then rejoins Elsa for a good time. It quickly goes from mildly cute to crushingly dull. Even veteran actor George Segal (playing an upbeat, encouraging doctor friend of Fred) and fan favorite Scott Bakula (as Elsa’s overbearingly protective oldest son) can’t generate interest above the general mediocrity of the material. Even the movie's climactic finale fails to earn the emotional appeal it so desperately wants.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Elsa & Fred' is presented by Millennium Entertainment on a single 25GB disc in a standard Blu-ray keepcase, without any inserts or other physical supplementary materials. Front loaded trailers presented in standard definition and 2.0 sound start up after the disc is loaded, though these can be bypassed so that viewers can skip to the animated main menu.
'Elsa & Fred' is presented as a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encoding with widescreen aspect ratio of 1.77:1. Though most scenes take place indoors, the cinematography by Michael McDonough, ASC is one of the best elements of ‘Elsa & Fred.” There is a crisp freshness to the picture which is a welcome change of pace from the teal and orange palette of today’s CGI-based blockbusters and the Blu-ray captures the visuals terrifically. However, the high definition picture also makes it easier to notice the inconsistency in details, especially during the softer focus shots of Shirley MaClaine. The film’s natural grain is evident, but never distracting and the overall transfer is without artifacts or defects.
The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is more than adequate for this type of movie where dialogue dominates and music and sound effects are limited in their appearance. Voices are properly anchored in the center channel, though there are moments where the automated dialogue replacement (ADR) process (generally recognized as post-production redubbing of dialogue) is clearly evident and temporarily distracts from the emotional impact of the movie’s climax.
The “Making-Of Featurette” is surprisingly enjoyable, and is highlighted by Christopher Plumber casually playing piano in the background. While it doesn’t rise above the usual self-congratulatory nature of such “documentaries,” it does show that the actors and filmmakers had their hearts in the right place. A set of trailers presented in standard definition video with stereo sound are also presented as a bonus material, and are front-loaded when the disc starts up.
'Elsa & Fred' is one of those movies where a viewer's worst prejudices about a story involving two older people who fall in love come true: that the romance will seem contrived and predictable, and that the story itself will be filled with stereotypes when it comes to the generation gap. I really hate to pick on a film which gives audiences more than just another superhero reboot, or another vampire film, or another teenage sex romp, or another supernatural horror film, but 'Elsa & Fred' disappoints on too many levels. While one shouldn't expect cinematic greatness from the romantic comedy genre, one should reasonably expect better than what's offered here.