“You know how I feel about enjoying things,” Arthur (Terrence Stamp) grumbles to his grown son (Christopher Eccleston). We know, too, before we’re too far into Unfinished Song: Arthur is a grumpy old man, and enjoyment of anything seems to be far down his list of priorities. He seems to care for little besides his sweet-tempered, dying wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave). His relationship with his son borders on estranged; he knows he hasn’t been a warm fatherly figure, but he can’t seem to help himself.
Marion’s interests are more varied. She loves Arthur, crankiness and all, but she also likes to sing with her friends at the local community center, an activity Arthur scorns outwardly and inwardly fears is taxing her strength. But because her husband is in serious need of salvaging and because Unfinished Song is a movie determined to uplift, that singing group will rescue Arthur from his loneliness and isolation when the inevitable occurs.
Unfinished Song is full of predictably poignant moments; you’d be lucky to survive the film dry-eyed. But writer/director Paul Andrew Williams balances out the sorrow with gentle humor, much of it stemming from the song selections of the young musical director, played by Gemma Arterton, last seen wielding a mean crossbow in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. This material could not be further from that fractured fairy tale’s blood and guts, but Arterton fares well, much like the elderly singers, who are more likely to be practicing Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy or Salt-N-Pepa’s Let’s Talk About Sex than songs more generation-appropriate.
Of course Williams has pulled out the big guns for the lead roles; even though you have a pretty good idea where Unfinished Song is going to wind up, Stamp and Redgrave keep you interested in the journey. “I can’t change,” Arthur tells the choir director when she tries to lure him into the group. “It’s too late.” Unfinished Song disputes that notion, and if Arthur’s transformation isn’t surprising, the movie still leaves you with a definite sense of enjoyment. By the end, even Arthur would approve.
Cast: Terence Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave, Gemma Arterton, Christopher Eccleston.
Writer/director: Paul Andrew Williams.
Producers: Ken Marshall, Philip Moross.
A Weinstein Co. release. Running time: 93 minutes. Some sexual references, rude gestures. Playing at: In Miami-Dade: South Beach; in Broward: Sunrise; in Palm Beach: Shadowood.