A Review by Jason L. King
Starring: The stars of the Young At Heart Choir
Directed by: Steven Walker, Sally George
Rated: PG for some mild language and thematic elements.
Movie Released: 2007
Classic rock fans everywhere in the world can sing by heart the lyrics of Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll.” You know, the kind of music that soothes your soul and makes you reminisce about the days of old? I’m sure when Seger first sang that song years ago, he wasn’t taking the phrase “Old Time Rock and Roll” literally. However, the stars of the documentary Young @ Heart, take the meaning of the phrase to a whole new level.
I’m going to make the assumption that my reader base is under the age of 65 in most cases. So, imagine that your grandmother or grandfather moved to a retirement home and became a rock and roll singer. That’s right, the first time you visit grandpa in his new community center, he is rocking out to the Ramones and knows all the lyrics to “I Wanna be Sedated.” The mere thought of that is probably enough to make you laugh. There is no possible way something like that could actually be true right? Well brace yourselves folks, because in Massachusetts there is a group of singing senior citizen who know how to rock. They are the members of the Young @ Heart Choir, a group of bonefide rockers with a average age of 81 years old.
The 2007 documentary Young @ Heart follows the trials and tribulations of a senior citizen rock and roll choir and their director as they prepare for a concert in their home town. Having traveled to Europe and performed for royalty, this serious group of golden age rock singers work feverishly with their leader to learn songs by Coldplay, The Clash, James Brown and Sonic Youth in just 7 weeks.
What makes this documentary interesting, if the mere plot line alone doesn’t get you is the interviews with the seniors about what led them to join the choir and how much it has changed their lives. Originally, the program started as an activity for the seniors and it became so popular that they began putting on concerts and gaining fame. Many of the senior citizens have never heard the music the director is presenting to them. Seeing a group of people who state that classical music is their favorite genre trying to rock out with the Ramones brings a smile to your face. However, when the median age of every member of your choir is 81, you have to expect that the good Lord might come and take one of your stars away. Unfortunately, during their rehearsal weeks, one of their members passes on. As a viewer of the documentary, you get to go on the emotional roller coaster with the seniors and they say goodbye to an old friend and go on with the show. Perhaps one of the most heartfelt scenes of the film is when the Young @ Heart Choir performs for a local prison. Out stretched on the prison lawn is a group of hardened criminals listening attentively and applauding loudly as the elderly choir entertains them with rock and roll, songs about second chances and never being too old.
Despite having heartfelt on camera moments with many of the choir members and having a bird’s eye view of the rehearsals, the film flaws itself by intermixing music videos amongst the footage. Most likely meant to break the film up a bit, the music videos actually look more mocking than they do supportive. Unfortunately, this feeling comes and goes throughout the film. Much of the time the film shines a very positive light on the program and the choir members. Still there are many other times, I felt the film was edited in a way that is poking fun at the elderly participants. It’s like a snide tactic by the director to get people to laugh at the efforts of this elderly choir just because they are doing something out of the norm.
When it really comes down to it, I am torn by this documentary. I found enjoyment in it. I found enough enjoyment to even recommend it to others. I felt the story was wonderful, the characters were charming and in many scenes it was very heartfelt. However, despite all that I felt that the documentary was missing something. I wasn’t convinced the documentary truly knew what it wanted to be. It didn’t push the line and become a sappy heartfelt piece, and opted many times to make a quick humorous jab at the documentary participants. Because of that the film gets stuck somewhere in between and drudges full force forward not knowing what it truly is. However, what ever the directors motivation is and whatever your motivation may be for seeing it, I think you just might have a good time with Young @ Heart.