“A foot stomping, hand clapping kind of thing”
I am not one for documentaries or nonfiction as they usually don’t allow me to escape inside the film to get a release from the life I’m living. I generally enjoy fiction because of the fantastical and its ability to bring me into a world that I wouldn’t otherwise enter. With that said, I can’t tell you how surprised I was at how much I enjoyed this chorus of old folks that are truly [email protected]. Straight from the get-go, this choral troupe inspires, entertains, and just lives life to the fullest. Acting as though they are still in their twenties—taking shots at each other, flirting, and singing their hearts out—the Young at Heart Chorus shows its audience what it means to grow old and enjoy every minute of it. Credit filmmaker Stephen Walker for keeping a somewhat unobtrusive eye on the proceedings, infusing himself into the group, joining the family. He says how he has gained 24 or so more grandparents through the process and I would also say they all gained one more grandchild. The comfortability with their documentarian is 100%, allowing this film to inspire us all for the future and show how pure the heart can be.
These elderly crooners are a blast to spend time with. When shown the new songs for an upcoming concert, all have a mixture of excitement and confusion. During the first run-through of Sonic Youth’s “Schizophrenia” we see fingers going into ears, face-cringes, and what could be described as disgust. However, they all welcome a challenge and although they don’t understand the song, nor have a clue at where it’s going, they never give up. Credit music director Bob Cilman for having the patience and skill to mold these performers into an act of shear professionalism and entertainment. He knows his group and their abilities, placing certain solo responsibilities on some, duet partnerships on others, always knowing that they will give their all no matter what. At first you may think he is just a vessel for them to have fun, joking around and partaking in the laughs, but as the time gets closer and closer to the performance, Bob shows his taskmaster side. He wants the best show possible and is unafraid to let his singers know it, whether telling them what he needs or threatening to cut a song. The group never falters, though. They take the criticism and run with it. When challenged to come back after Easter with the words to Allen Toussaint’s “Yes, We Can Can” fully learned, the Northampton, MA troupe show their mettle and eventually hit it out of the park.
The music is fantastic for sure, I think I may purchase their disc from CDBaby.com before the night is over, but it is really the people involved that shine onscreen. Every member is an integral cog to the system and just brimming with life and energy. From Steve “Sexy Beast” Martin and his exuberance, to consummate professional Joe Benoit and his ability to memorize a song in one afternoon, to his best friend and confident driver Len Fontaine, to the flirtatious 92-year-old Eileen Hall, there is no one you won’t you love afterwards. Their bond is unbreakable and they all help each other through the good and the bad times. Just to see them dance and move when listening to a new song, performing their dance steps at a prison gig, and unabashedly showing their emotions when tragedy strikes helps show how real they all are. These guys aren’t hamming it up for the camera, they truly know how to have fun and aren’t afraid to show it.
Despite only taking place during the course of a seven week rehearsal schedule, having a group of people averaging 80-years-old is ripe for life to rear its ugly head. All the good times—the reunions, the rejuvenation, the singing, dancing, and laughing—are countered by devastation. While the film’s trailer shows an uproarious good time, and by God it is, don’t be caught off-guard for the poignant moments of clarity and sadness. Unfortunately tragedy does strike, sometimes at the most inopportune moments, yet all march on for their fallen comrades, creating a touching portrait of humanity. These moments also bring some of the most powerful songs including a stirring rendition of Coldplay’s “Fix You” by returning ex-member Fred Knittle with his Johnny Cash-like baritone.
In the end, though, [email protected] is really an uplifting tale of perseverance and life at its most simple and pleasurable. This is an internationally traveling chorus, touring Europe each year to complement their US dates. Never afraid to have fun, we are given some snippets of music video style shoots interspersed throughout the film. “Stayin’ Alive” is fantastic and during the performance for “Golden Years” one can’t help but laugh to the point of tears for Stan Goldman. Go see this film while you can and don’t be surprised to see it winning a best documentary Oscar at next year’s show. I heard the rumblings that this was becoming quite the phenomenon and now I can say first hand that it is more than that. [email protected] is something we can all relate with and a film we should see to attain hope for the future and a template for how to live out our retirements, not sulking at home, but out enjoying all the things we did the years past. Maybe life really begins at age 70.
[email protected] 8/10 | ★ ★ ★