Thursday, August 1, 2013

A marraige in its twilight years

Still together -- and still in love.
At least two unforgivable sins can be committed by movies that have been made with an eye on the box-office. One involves telling a story about older people. In a youth-oriented culture, that's a definite "no-no." The second: making a movie about aging without resorting to artery-clogging expressions of sentiment.

To its credit, Still Mine avoids the traps that snare too many movies about aging. A straight-forward and modest piece of work, Still Mine offers a clear-eyed but tender view of a marriage that has lasted more than 60 years.

Director Michael McGowan tells the story of a Canadian husband and wife who have reached their late 80s, and are dealing with the inevitable ravishments of advanced age, most notably the wife's increasingly severe loss of short-term memory.

James Cromwell gives a fine and steady performance as 87-year-old Craig Morrison, a farmer whose wife (Genevieve Bujold) is slipping mentally.

To add to the couple's problems, the farmhouse in which the they raised their seven children is becoming too much for either of them to handle. Aware of their decreasing ability to cope, Craig decides to build a smaller, one-story house on his property, a task that becomes more urgent when Bujold's Irene falls and breaks a hip.

Enter a low-key plot: Morrison's construction efforts put him at odds with a persistent building inspector (Jonathan Potts), a bureaucrat who insists on enforcing code regulations that mean little to Morrison. He knows how to build a house, and can't understand why he can't do whatever the hell he wants on his property, a spacious 2,000-acre piece of land in New Brunswick.

To Cromwell's credit, Morrison doesn't come across as one more grumpy old man, a cantankerous standard bearer for outmoded values. Just when you think that Morrison might fly off the handle, Cromwell reigns in his emotions. Morrison does on occasion become angry, but Cromwell refuses to deprive him of intelligence, balance and wit.

Neither Cromwell nor Bujold looks old enough to be in deep into their 80s, but it doesn't much matter because the two actors create a touching portrait of people who've spent nearly their entire lives together. Craig and Irene know each other's moves, moods, shortcomings and strengths.

As the movie progresses, Morrison must watch as his wife endures further mental deterioration: He reaches a point at which he no longer can cover for her. One of the couple's sons (Rick Roberts) does his best to convince his father that his mother needs help, but McGowan doesn't push the family dynamics to aggrieved extremes.

The story of a determined man facing an inflexible bureaucracy is serviceable enough to move the movie along, but Cromwell and Bujold are responsible for putting the noodles into what otherwise could have been a very thin broth.

Filmed with clarity and precision that respects the Canadian landscape without romanticizing it, Still Mine -- which is based on a true story, stands as a portrait of a marriage that has sustained two people. This husband and wife may not be at their peak, but their feelings for each other still run deep.

That's good news here for those of us who, by the minute, are getting longer in the tooth. Age can't be avoided, but it needn't rob one of love.

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