From the moment I saw the trailer for this, I knew it was going to be charming. I'm not usually one for documentaries, but what's not to love about old people singing rock songs, if you just think about the comedic possibilities?
I wasn't disappointed; from its opening minutes, showing an older lady wailing and speak-singing The Clash's ("The Crash?") "Should I Stay Or Should I Go?", Young@Heart is irresistible and irrepressibly optimistic, even through moments of mourning. I guess this is a spoiler, so don't read to the end of this passage if you're not prepared to, but what can you expect with a movie about very, very old people except that there's going to be death? I cried and cried and cried every time there was a reference to one of the two deaths in the movie, especially during the touching solo rendition of Coldplay's "Fix You," but this isn't a sad movie. Far from it.
There are moments of poignancy, and these aren't glossed over at all - rather, the camera lingers and gives the subjects some time to breathe rather than hurrying along to the next happy moment. I think especially of wonderful Joe Benoit, my favourite person in the whole doc, whose lovely smile barely wavers even as he sits alone in the frame with an IV in his arm.
Still, as I said, it's not a sad movie, just a sensitive one. There are so many moments of laughter, as you might expect from observing a bunch of 80-year-olds trying to scream like James Brown or strut about while singing "Stayin' Alive," and of course, when the doc takes time to let us see these people beyond their roles in the choir, as lovers, comedians, regular patrons at your local diner. You never get the sense that the filmmaker is trying to manipulate your emotions (even though you know this isn't all there is), but rather, you simply see a group of wonderful, funny people who get annoyed and tired and sick and sad and flirty even though by all norms, they're at the end of their roads.
There are a few weaknesses, of course: Bob Cilman, the choir's director, is given very little attention despite his screen time, as we learn very little about him and how he got involved in this, how he feels about these people. We get a glimpse of it when he talks to them on the phone, and you can tell that he's worried about these seniors, but still, we learn little about him. As well, the camerawork is not spectacular, and the grainy quality certainly doesn't add to the experience.
But oh, what a lovely movie this is, and it gives me hope that the end of life can be as joyful and beautiful as the beginning. These old people have such wondrous exuberance, and it's impossible to remain unmoved in the face of such scenes as Lenny zipping down the road in a rickety old car, or Eleanor flirting with the camera crew, or Dora dancing joyfully in the back of the chorus practice room. Or, on the flip side, watching Fred watch the Coldplay music video by himself in a darkened room, or looking at Joe's lovely smiling face in the Young@Heart poster being pinned up in a diner.
Wonderful and life-affirming.