Saturday, July 27, 2013


Rated: PG-13

Stars: Terence Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave, Gemma Arterton, Christopher Eccleston

Director: Paul Andrew Williams

Genre: Comedy/ Drama/ Musical 

Arthur (Terence Stamp) is a cranky old Brit.  He's cranky with his wife, Marion, (Vanessa Redgrave) who is in ill health and not long for this world. And he's especially cranky with their son, James,  (Christopher Eccleston) a rather hapless sort who needs to be prodded to come and sit with his mother while Arthur tends to other things. Arthur and son don't get on with each other-- they've never really been that close, apparently, but there is no background provided on why that might be. 

Marion, in her waning days,  is a member of a senior citizen glee club led by Elizabeth, (Gemma Arterton) a perky young woman who thinks it's cute to get them to sing hi-hop and other semi-modern songs like, "Let's Think About Sex" (baybeeee) and have them do the robot. We learn next to nothing about her though, except for the one time when she gets weepy about a broken relationship. 

The pensioners are all sort of cute in their ineptness, as one and then another gets carted away after pulling or straining something.  And while they have lots of on-screen time, they are all just extras, really, because besides Marion, none are even partially developed as characters. And therein we have the main flaw of Unfinished Song--the lack of character development (other than the shining performances of Stamp and Redgrave)--providing and unintended irony to the film's title. 

In the beginning, the plot centers around Marion's stiff upper lip in the face of her terminal diagnosis.  When she passes on, Unfinished Song becomes Arthur's story--a tale of redemption in how choir director Elizabeth gradually brings him out of his shell to get on with the business of living--getting involved with the choir himself as they prepare for a big competition they've been invited to participate in.

There will be plenty of moist eyes in the theater when the emotionally manipulative Unfinished Song  is finished. The most effective films manipulate you, but you don't mind because what they're doing isn't all that obvious and it takes you by surprise--like a marionette performance where you don't notice the strings.  In Unfinished Song, however, those strings are clearly visible.  

Grade:  B --


For me, one of the most highly satisfying things in life is when you suddenly hear a favorite oldie on the radio – a song you used to play over and over again in your youth. Well that happened to me in UNFINISHED SONG. Emotionally manipulated or not, Billy Joel's "Lullaby (Goodnight, My Angel)" has been one of my all-time favorites since it first appeared on the scene in his album titled 'River of Dreams" (1993). After seeing UNFINISHED SONG through "moist eyes," I went home and promptly got on YouTube to uncover the story of what motivated Joel to pen such an incredible masterpiece. According to him, he wrote the song for his daughter who was six at the time. It was his way of answering that age-old question all kids ask their parents at some point: "What happens when you die, Daddy?"

As for UNFINISHED SONG... Here is my prediction: Terence Stamp will garner an Oscar nomination for his stellar performance. He's played some interesting characters in previous films (from a transsexual in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert to an English vigilante in The Limey). But his role as an unlikeable/likeable curmudgeon in SONG is by far his most challenging to date. I realize it's early to be talking Academy Awards. Still. There's always one early release every year that offers viewers a tour de force on film. (Inglorious Basterds was released nine months before voting began and even then we all knew Christoph Waltz would walk away with a Best Supporting Actor award.) Speaking of which, I'd also give "Lullaby" a Best Song Award. Only it probably won't qualify since it wasn't written specifically for this film.