Boynton Beach Club film review

This review appeared in the Australian Jewish News on August 31, 2007

Directed by Susan Seidelman

Written by Florence Seidelman, David Cramer, Susan Seidelman and Shelly Gitlow

Starring Joseph Bologna, Dyan Cannon, Len Cariou, Sally Kellerman, Michael Nouri and Brenda Vaccaro

Watching Boynton Beach Club – a slight, warm and gently humorous film about retirees in of course, Boynton Beach, Florida – I marvelled that there are relatively few movies set amongst American retirees, given the rich range of characters and situations available.   The classic of this genre is Cocoon (1985), although more recently About Schmidt also covered somewhat similar territory.

Directed and co-written by Susan Seidelman (whose early films Smithereens and Desperately Seeking Susan helped to define a new form of New York City black comedy) – from a story by her mother, Boynton Beach Club charts the trials and tribulations of a number of (mostly Jewish) seventysomething retirees – all played by actors of the same age.  These very alive characters neatly and cleverly illustrate so many of the challenges facing the “active” and healthy aged:  the death of spouses, dealing with grief, dating and sex, the increasing gender gap of fewer males to more females, adult children (and their bothersome needs), re-obtaining drivers licences and marking out lives into the uncharted territory of active old age.

The Seidelmans (mother and daughter) neatly capture just about every issue in one or more of six key characters:  stylish Harry (Joseph Bologna), Lois (Dyan Cannon), the recently bereaved Jack (Len Cariou), Sandy (Sally Kellerman, best known as “Hot Lips Houlihan” in Mash), Marilyn (Brenda Vacarro) and the slightly younger Donald (Michael Nouri), handsome and the only one of them working.   Most of the characters come together in the Boynton Beach Bereavement Club (which was the original title of this film), run by a social worker for those who have lost family members.  The personal interactions are gems:  the older woman who drops food off to Jack shortly after his wife’s death (trying to get in early), Sandy’s open approaches to meet men, Jack’s humiliating episode at a chemist when he picks up Viagra, Harry’s painful attempts to meet women through the internet and Marilyn’s raw grief over the accidental death of her very healthy husband.  At one point, someone marvels that a character can “drive at night”, a sly but oh so telling reference to the cruel vicissitudes of ageing.

Boynton Beach Club has become something of a cult hit in the USA, and it is not hard to see why:  I can easily imagine the many millions of Florida and California retirees (such as those in Laguna Hills in southern California, where my late Uncle Lou lived) going to see this film.  There are no Bruce Willis action heroes on screen, but rather people just like them – still bright and active and now challenged with dealing with the ten years of active life ahead of them, with few role models to guide them.

I enjoyed Boynton Beach Club, but it will certainly appeal most to the demographic that it portrays – the over sixty-five retirees.  The script, although full of telling incidents, does not build substantial emotional resonance – I predicted how each incident was going to be resolved well in advance.

There is also a very odd sense of female body type portrayed in this film:  both Sandy (Kellerman) and Lois (Cannon) are breathtakingly thin, almost desiccated with the ravages of age clearly shown on their faces.  While that is probably part of the point, it is strange that only these two very thin women are the ones who find romance:  what is the lesson in that?  That one must be a size six in order to obtain a man when you are in your seventies?

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