Despite nice performances, 'Unfinished Song' seems out of tune 

click to enlarge Although the performances by Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp are strong, "Unfinished Song" ends on a phony note.
  • Although the performances by Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp are strong, "Unfinished Song" ends on a phony note.

A grouchy pensioner rediscovers his inner crooner by joining the community choir to which his joyful late wife belonged in the British dramedy "Unfinished Song."

The movie trend of older protagonists nicely continues in this film, and two wonderful actors enhance the deal. But a cliched story filled with artificial cheer sinks what might have been both a moving look at death and loss and an uplifting comic charmer.

Written and directed by Paul Andrew Williams ("London to Brighton"), the film begins like a softer version of "Amour" and winds up suggesting a fictionalized form of the feel-good senior-choir documentary "Young@Heart." The first half proves superior.

Warmhearted Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) and ill-tempered Arthur (Terence Stamp) are a long-married 70-something couple coping with Marion's terminal cancer diagnosis.

Marion loves singing in the local senior choir, whose upbeat young leader, Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton), teaches the group pop and rap songs. Arthur deems the chorus an unworthy use of Marion's remaining strength. When the singers serenade ailing Marion with "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," he tongue-lashes them.

But after Marion dies, the grieving Arthur goes to the center while the choir is practicing, and Elizabeth eventually persuades him to join in. The experience unseals Arthur's heart and inspires him to reconnect with his estranged son, James (Christopher Eccleston).

Williams fares best when focusing on Marion and Arthur. Arthur, though hardened, loves Marion deeply; he cares for her devotedly as she declines. Opposite-tempered Marion adores Arthur.

Redgrave, who creates a character both exquisitely serene and vigorously stubborn, and Stamp, avoiding sentimentality, generate so much emotional credibility that we cannot abandon the couple even when the screenplay goes mushy.

But mawkishness prevails when the choir dominates, and that happens too often. The film shapes up as an abundance of false notes — hardly what a story about a friendly, variegated community choir should be.

Despite the presence of known British actors, the choir members lack distinct personalities beneath their sunny exteriors and are even more cliched (rap is "hippity-hop" music) than the "Marigold Hotel" seniors.

Other than Marion's cancer and a corny neck injury, health issues don't affect the bunch. Nor do depression, financial insecurity or the immense disappointment many older people experience.

The plot development that determines the fate of the choir at, that's right, the big competition is phonier still. More brightly, a solo delivered by Stamp's Arthur is a knockout. Only a solo delivered earlier by Redgrave's Marion surpasses it.


Unfinished Song (two stars)

Starring Terence Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave, Gemma Arterton, Christopher Eccleston

Written and directed by Paul Andrew Williams

Rated PG-13

Running time 1 hour, 36 minutes

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Anita Katz

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