Young @ Heart

Young @ Heart

Young @ Heart

directed by Stephen Walker

starring The Young at Heart Chorus and Bob Cilman

Fox Searchlight

The line about “Too old to rock and roll and too young to die” gets flipped end for end in this engaging, if sometimes maudlin, documentary of 20 elderly amateur singers who forgo show tunes for punk. Don’t wince, Strummer and Ian Drury are dead, and Johnny Rotten turned 50 last year. When you first meet the singers, they are lined up on folding chairs looking like the waiting room at the cancer center. By the end of the film, they bring the house down at a sold-out show in Northampton, Mass. It’s heartwarming, sure, but along the way they do a brilliant parody of the Ramones “I Wanna Be Sedated” video, including elderly women pogo-ing on their walkers. Chorus director Bob Climan challenges this group with musically difficult pieces by Coldplay, Allen Toussaint, Jimi Hendrix, and the Talking Heads. On the first listen, the singers gripe like Mom and Dad did, “It’s too loud” and “How can you hear the lyrics?” and “Turn that noise down!” But before long, they take ferocious ownership of these numbers, and if nothing else, you WILL hear the lyrics.

Director Walker stays off to one side and lets the humor and love these people naturally exude float to the surface. We spend a few minutes with each of them in their homes, and, more movingly, in their hospital rooms. When you deal with a group whose average age is north of 80, you need to expect some attrition but even in the face of loss, the band soldiers on, rallying behind the old show business mantra “Leave no ticket unrefunded.” The group even does a show at a jail hours after a death, althought it’s not like the audience was going to dissipate. The loss of people you’ve come to love adds a down note to this otherwise immensely positive show, but we get most of the energy back by the final performance. The emotional roller coaster almost comes full circle with a heartfelt rendition of “Yes We Can Can” by Allen Toussaint. The audience eats it up, and I can’t say I wasn’t tapping my arthritic toes as well. I hate to recommend a “feel-good” movie for just making me feel good, but this one gives off enough sly winks to forgive almost anything, even messing with James Brown’s lyrics.

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