If 60 is the new 40, then 36 must be the new 16, in which case Appellate Judge Dan Mancini should be fighting acne, pestering his parents for the car keys, and hoping like hell that Sting gives up his new solo career and makes another record with The Police.
Sixty is the new 40.
At the Boynton Beach Bereavement Club in sunny Florida, sexagenarian widows and widowers gather to commiserate, hang out, and hook up. After losing his wife of 45 years, Jack Goodman (Len Cariou, About Schmidt) meets and begins to tentatively date a forward blond named Sandy Willis (Sally Kellerman, MASH). Jack's buddy Harry (Joseph Bologna, My Favorite Year) is an eight-year member of the club. A self-styled ladies man, Harry has an interesting encounter with a hot redhead he meets through an online dating service.
Unable to drive a car or balance a checkbook, Marilyn (Brenda Vaccaro, Midnight Cowboy) is set adrift when her husband dies. She finds solace in a friendship with sassy and vibrant Lois (Dyan Cannon, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice), who joined the club after losing her son to AIDS. Meanwhile, Lois meets Donald (Michael Nouri, Flashdance), a charming real estate developer who sweeps her off her feet.
Through ups and downs, the members of the Boynton Beach Bereavement Club provide each other with friendship, romance, and a little sex in their sunset years.
Boynton Beach Club isn't a great movie, but it's a solid, competent one. It owes its quality to director Susan Seidelman's (Desperately Seeking Susan) confidence in her material and respect for her characters. The film is loaded with gags about the existential pangs of life at retirement age. Jokes range from the tackiness of velour jumpsuits and heavily-sprayed beehives, to the embarrassment of filling a prescription for erectile dysfunction medication; from generational disconnects with goth granddaughters, to the horror of discovering one's dead husband had a secret stash of porn. Played strictly for yucks, the material might come off like a National Lampoon adventure set among the aged in God's peninsular waiting room. But Seidelman imbues the comedy with naturalism. Confident of its truth, she simply lets it play without wacky punctuation or knowing irony. The comedy blends well with the movie's genuinely poignant sequences, as when Jack, his daughter, and his granddaughter clean his wife's possessions out of his house (a horrible ritual for anyone who's lost a close relative). These scenes, too, play with understated simplicity.
I could complain about the obvious artifice of a screenplay in which the adventures of a variety of characters run in hard structural parallel, but Boynton Beach Club is, at its core, a romantic comedy and one expects a fair amount of artifice in a romantic comedy. The film's real flaw is that it has a few too many characters. This prevents us from becoming as invested in the various stories as we might. The friendship between Marilyn and Lois suffers the most. Overshadowed by Lois's budding romance with Donald, the friendship between two very different women, forged of a sympathy born of grief, is far more interesting. Too bad we're cheated out of seeing more of it.
Performances are strong across the board, with Len Cariou and Brenda Vaccaro delivering the finest work. They're really the heart and soul of the picture. It's too bad that Dyan Cannon is given more screen time than she deserves, at the expense of Vaccaro's far more interesting character. Don't get me wrong, Cannon is competent throughout, but her surgically inflated lips and slinky outfits play best as a foil to Vaccaro's matronly insecurities. The conflict at the center of her romance with Donald is as threadbare and predictable as it gets. Since the wonderfully tentative romance between Cariou and Sally Kellerman makes a much better vessel for the startling revelation that old people boink, there's not much purpose at all for Cannon's romantic storyline.
Visually speaking, Seidelman's direction of Boynton Beach Club is controlled and competent, without a hint of pretension. Her textbook compositions are coherent but not aggressively cinematic. Boynton Beach Club often resembles a telefilm made for the AARP cable network, if such a thing existed. Sony's DVD is simple but impressive. The transfer sports a smooth, detailed image with just a touch of film gain. Colors are natural. Source flaws are essentially non-existent, as are any hints of digital manipulation.
On the audio front, we're treated to a full Dolby 5.1 mix. It's more than the simple, dialogue-heavy soundtrack needs, but it delivers a crisp and satisfying aural experience.
The only extra is a thorough and energetic commentary by Seidelman.
Boynton Beach Club is a romantic comedy with a gimmick: love and sex among the long-married and recently widowed or widowered. The gimmick works because of director Susan Seidelman's dedication and the strong work of the movie's seasoned cast.
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• Commentary with Director Susan Seidelman
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