If you are in your 70s or older, and still haven’t found true love, Elsa & Fred is the inspirational movie for you. If you’re younger than that, well, you can still have a decent enough time with it. Here is a move about two elderly people livening up each other’s lives, making some jokes, and very little more. There isn’t anything to Elsa & Fred other than that, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be an enjoyable film to help pass the time.
Elsa (Shirley MacLaine) has lived in her apartment for quite a while. She’s friendly with everyone, anyway, and she seems to like to think of herself as a cool older person. She listens to hip hop in her car, for example. She’s also a pathological liar. But that’s seen as “charming” in the film. Her new neighbor, Fred (Christopher Plummer), has reluctantly moved in after his son (Scott Bakula) forced him to. Fred is a recluse and doesn’t like doing anything that doesn’t involve lying in bed or sitting in front of the television. Elsa is immediately smitten with him, and eventually convinces him to spend more time with her. Their romance begins.
The romance continues until the credits roll. It has its ups and downs — almost always related to Elsa lying to Fred, him getting mad for a scene, and then forgiving her — but mostly it’s sweet and uneventful, at least when it comes to relationship drama. These two fall for each other quite fast and quite hard, and that’s really all there is to the film. We watch them go from unhappy to happy over its running time, and then we come away with a smile because it’s all so sweet.
You do this exact movie with a couple of teenagers and we would call it overly sentimental and fake. You do it with 40-something adults and we’d be inclined to say the same thing. What makes it okay simply because the protagonists are elderly people? It seems a bit like a double standard, but I’m going to be in minority in thinking this way. Besides, I did actually have fun with Elsa & Fred. It’s funny and sweet, and completely harmless entertainment.
Elsa & Fred is a remake of an Argentinian film, Elsa y Fred, which I haven’t seen. It had a bit more to it, I’m told, as the leads were from different countries as well as different walks of life, but I don’t know if that actually makes any difference. It’d be interesting to see how someone compares the two, but they’re probably similar enough that if you see one of them, you’ve seen them both. I mean, it’s all just sappy and sentimental anyway, right?
Some of it doesn’t work. A subplot involving Fred’s daughter (Marcia Gay Harden) and her husband is a waste of time, and, actually, almost anything that doesn’t directly relate to Elsa and Fred’s budding romance feels like it’s there just to pad the running time. I’m okay with watching these two people fall in love; I don’t care about anything else. None of it matters, and the film only pays cursory attention to it all, anyway. Like the title indicates, it’s all about Elsa and Fred.
Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer are both former Oscar winners. They know what they’re doing on-screen. You can believe in their romance because they’re so good at acting. MacLaine is the livelier one, at least at the beginning, while Plummer starts off as angry and reclusive and slowly comes out of that shell. They have a good chemistry together, and you can completely buy that they’re in love with one another. That’s part of the reason that the film works at all. It’s also relatively funny, mostly because of the way the actors deliver their lines.
Elsa & Fred is overly sentimental, not particularly deep, and has nothing going for it outside of its central romance. With a younger couple, it would be dismissed and never thought about. But because it’s an elderly couple, it’s sweet and works. Don’t think too hard about it, enjoy it for its sweetness and comedy, and you’re likely going to have a good time. Christopher Plummer and Shirley MacLaine are good fun to watch. The film fails completely when not focusing on them. This is the lightest of light entertainment.