Wednesday, February 13, 2013

‘Song For Marion’ (2013) directed by Paul Andrew Williams

Why are there so many films knocking around at the moment about elderly musicians?  It’s getting to feel like every other time I go to the cinema it’s to see some iconic old character actor shakily regaining their confidence through music (and often tragically dying).  I’ve seen Amour, Quartet, The Late Quartet and now Song for Marion.  Is there something in the water?  

Song for Marion fits this familiar mold to a tee.  Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave play Arthur and Marion, a set of quintessential English bungalow dwelling grandparents.  Marion is dying of cancer, but is determined to keep attending her choir evenings at the Community Centre, which are conducted by the saintly Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton).  Arthur finds this choir unbelievably annoying, and prefers to spend his time silently smoking rollups outside until it’s time to leave.  Will Marion get to sing her solo piece before she dies?  Will Arthur cheer up and realise that singing in a choir isn’t so bad?  Will he reconcile with his estranged son James (Christopher Eccleston)?  Will the choir get to perform in the big choir competition at the end?

Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave as Arthur and Marion
As soon as the twee, plinky plonky sitcom style soundtrack starts playing you know what kind of film this is and you immediately know the answers to all those questions.  Predictability doesn’t have to be a problem for a film; it’s not the destination that’s interesting, it’s the route you take to get there.  Unfortunately, in the case of Song for Marion starting point, route and destination are all deeply, deeply boring.  At no point during this film did I come close to enjoying myself, it’s cloyingly sentimental and as funny as weak tea.

Much of the comedy of the film hinges on your opinion of a group of old people singing songs like Salt N Pepa’s ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’.  If you find it hilarious and daring that they’d have elderly people singing a song with vaguely erotic lyrics then this might well be the film for you.  Personally I find jokes like these about as funny as war, famine, plague or flood.  “It’s funny you see, because they’re old, and they don’t know about pop music, but they DO know about sex!"  Maybe secretly maybe they’re not so prudish as you might assume!”  The choir is hellish, a group of goober-eyed stereotypes chirpily bent on enforc happiness.  When they turn up outside Arthur and Marion’s bedroom window and began serenading the couple at some ungodly hour of the morning, I was entirely on Arthur’s side when he angrily yelled at them to bugger off.

How wacky.
Admittedly, it’s difficult to pick a duff performer out of our leads, Redgrave, Eccleston, Arterton and Stamp are all great actors, but this dire material wouldn’t stretch anyone.  You sense the actors desperately mining whatever nuance they can from the resolutely one dimensional script.  Rarely, something genuinely interesting in Stamp’s or Eccleston’s performances pokes above the parapet, but there’s simply not enough substance here to elevate this above the level of a moderately well written daytime TV movie.

I have to keep in mind throughout that just perhaps this film isn’t aimed at me.  It’s a warm cinematic blanket to throw over ‘silver screeners’.  There’s a quiet revolution happening in our cinemas; since the success of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel studios have apparently realised that there's a vast untapped audience who grew up going to the cinema regularly, don’t have much to do during the day and perhaps most importantly, tend not to download pirate movies off the internet.  I guess the idea is that this audience doesn’t want to see graphic violence, bad language, overt sexuality, they want light comedic stories that make them feel good when they walk out of the cinema.

Gemma Arteron as Elizabeth
With this in mind I feel horribly snooty ripping into Song for Marion, which probably does provide a forgettable distraction for 90 minutes for some people.  But though I guess the film nobly tries to instil a shallow, upbeat optimism in its audience, should mediocrity be what they settle for?  This feels cruel, but to enjoy a film like this is to artistically surrender, to give up on new experiences and ideas and wallow in nostalgia and familiarity.  If I was a member of a Song for Marion’s target demographic and there was an expectation that I’d mindlessly hoover up patronising blandness like this I’d be insulted.

Song for Marion is dull from start to finish, making 90 minutes feel like an eternity.  There is nothing interesting here, it’s a vacuum, an elephant graveyard of a film with nothing original or interesting to say.  I wish there was something obviously wrong with it to point to and explain that this is why you shouldn’t see it, but it’s so dull it doesn’t even do this service.  As far as I’m concerned, perpetual, mediocre boredom is an infinitely worse crime than simply being a ‘bad film’.  

If you’re thinking about seeing Song for Marion, imagine the Grim Reaper waiting on the road ahead.  He looks up at you, hollow sockets burning a hole through your soul. Slowly, yet impatiently, he taps his scythe with a bony finger. Think about that for a moment, then believe me when I tell you that watching this is 90 pointless minutes that you will never, ever get back.


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