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Young @ Heart
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by Jason Whyte

"The best film I saw at the 2008 South By Southwest Festival."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL: I have never seen a documentary quite like “Young @ Heart” before, and in the film’s 90 minutes I came to care deeply about the elderly singers that populate director Stephen Walker’s documentary. As someone who has worked with seniors in the past, I can understand the hardships and troubles that these people go through as they get older, and it is rewarding to see that they are making themselves feel better through song.

Now, when you think of seniors getting together and singing, you might think of standard songs from the 40’s and 50’s, or old age staples like Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald coming from the mouths of these people. You think of small choirs in a retirement home or seniors centre that meet once a week as they read from an old, worn out song book. How wrong you are, as the songs featured range from the 70’s all the way to popular current music, performed in a large, entertaining style that is as fun to watch as to listen to. This is a movie where you will want the soundtrack directly after the screening.

Walker’s film follows a group of elderly living in Boston as they are to perform a concert in only a few weeks’ time. We meet a group of lively characters who group to start a choir, and as they start out slowly they eventually become dedicated to perform in that short amount of time before they are to perform live.

A lot of the fun of “Young @ Heart” is inbetween the rehearsals and interviews, there a series of wacky, hilarious music interludes where we are treated chorus versions of songs such as The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” and Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can”, the latter a major challenge as the lyrics are whip-fast and a bit hard for the seniors to keep the rhythm. One particular character tries to sing this in an interview and deadpans “That’s HARD!”, but she does manage to do it later in the film.

In an inspiring moment (one of many in the film), the choir group visits a prison and sings to a group of inmates. It is shocking to see the positive response that they receive, and even one inmate remarks that “This is the best show that I’ve ever seen, period.” I think the reason is simply that you know they love the feeling of performance and that it gives them something to be proud of so late in their lives, and it comes across in their rendition of the music.

By the time we get to the concert, we believe in all of the characters that populate the story. While all of the music is toe-tapping, applaud worthy stuff, one of the film’s final songs where one of the more ailing singers “Fix You” by Coldplay is performed that is one of the most deeply touching moments I will see in a movie all year. Even though there is some fighting to get the words out, you can still witness the enthrallment of every moment on stage. It’s a great movie moment and one that inspired tears of joy.

The singing by the elders in the film is so heartfelt, so meaningful that I credit director Stephen Walker for not intruding too closely to the action. While his coverage is impressive, he also manages a lot of wide, long takes in the performance sequences so his subjects don’t notice they are being filmed. It’s a wise choice to let us simply enjoy their performance and what makes them tick. Helping him out is choir director Bob Climan, an “assistant director” of sorts whose contribution to the finished product is vital.

“Young at Heart” is one of the best films I have seen this year. It is an inspiring, moving work that is deeply rewarding as well as wonderfully entertaining. This is a great movie to see with a big crowd, as it is a great feeling to be wrapped up with a large crowd that is into the picture. Fox Searchlight will be releasing this film later in limited release in April 2008, and I hope they promote this film as they did with “Juno” and “Napoleon Dynamite” to gain the largest audience possible. It’s a film that deserves it and then some.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16989&reviewer=350
originally posted: 04/09/08 13:17:51
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2008 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2008 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Florida Film Festival For more in the 2008 Florida Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2008 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/19/10 Luisa Very touching and inspiring,makes u appreciate life 5 stars
9/24/08 Sarah Lang delightful film - contrary to review, it's not trying to carry the whole weight of death 5 stars
5/31/08 Jacqueline Carpenter A really good film 5 stars
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  09-Apr-2008 (PG)
  DVD: 16-Sep-2008


  DVD: 16-Sep-2008

Directed by
  Stephen Walker

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