A few days ago I went to see an advance screening of a movie I’d seen a trailer for a month or two ago, and, quite honestly, I would never have gone to see this movie unless a friend had said how much a friend of hers had loved it at an L.A. film festival last year. The movie is called Young@Heart, a British-made documentary about a Massachusetts chorus made up of elderly men and women who cover songs by a lot of surprising bands (The Ramones, Sonic Youth, Jimi Hendrix, Talking Heads, The Clash, The Bee Gees, David Bowie, etc.). Sounded quirkily tedious, but I decided to give it a shot.
And I’m so glad I did, because it’s one of the best films I’ve seen in years. I love this film so much that I feel a little embarrassed that I want absolutely everyone I know to go see it.
It’s very, very funny, and it’s very, very sad, and it’s very, very moving, and it’s better paced and more emotionally satisfying than most movies ever seem to be.
There are hilarious scenes with the men and women (average age about 80) attempting to learn Allen Toussaint’s Yes, We Can Can (in which the narrator tells us the word “can” shows up 71 times and is an almost impossible-to-learn tongue-twister for them). Tension mounts as Bob, the hip young chorus director, wonders if they’ll master it in time for their show and worldwide tour. It’s also amusing to watch them as they hear the songs they’ll be working on for the first time — there are many pained expressions as the group first hears Sonic Youth’s Schizophrenia. But it’s also suprising how easily they take to certain songs — there’s a wonderful moment when they completely nail Life During Wartime.
Rehearsing James Brown’s I Feel Good.
The sad moments inevitably come when the group talks about and is faced with mortality and the need to carry on, regardless of roadblocks along the way.
There are two scenes so moving that I wonder if Hollywood writers could come up with anything more powerful. In one scene, the group has learned of some bad news on the way to a performance they are to do at a local prison, but they insist on doing their show, despite the news. The reaction of the mostly young prisoners to this group of elderly men and women singing for them is incredible. There’s no way any person could watch this and not tear up. (There was a teenage boy sitting next to me with his girlfriend, and he was sniffling throughout the entire scene.)
Performing at the prison.
But the moment of moments comes at the end, when Fred Knittle (who is the funniest person in the movie) sings a song I’d never heard before but which, I assume, must be an anthemic super-hit from Coldplay (a band I’ve managed to avoid thus far) — Fix You. I won’t spoil the moment for those of you who might go see it (and EVERYONE should go see it), but listening to this man sing this song (which, in the context of this documentary, has a whole different meaning than Chris Martin probably intended), accompanied by the sound of his oxygen tank … it is powerful and sweet and staggering and life-affirming and just absolutely perfect.
Fred Knittle singing Fix You.
Go see this film.