Rating: 3 1/2 Stars (Out of 5)
Review: Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) is in the twilight of his years, and is vacationing at a very posh spa in the Swiss Alps. Fred is a renowned composer, and was director of the Venice orchestra for 24 years. He has lost his wife, has no desire to work any longer, and has grown introspective about his life. His best friend of 60 years, Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), a famous movie director, is staying at the spa as well, and the two of them spend much time reminiscing about their life while taking walks and meals at the spa. Mick is not retired; he and several young writers are fashioning a new screen play that may revive his flagging career. Fred is content to hear the music all around him in nature, from the birds and animals of the field to the rhythm of a candy wrapper he sometimes rubs together. However, it is not easy to totally withdraw from the world, as Fred is persistently pursued by an emissary from Queen Elizabeth to conduct a performance of his most famous compositions known as the Simple Songs.
Meanwhile, there are other stories unfolding at the spa. Fred’s daughter Lena (Rachel Weitz) is having a crisis with her husband. Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano), a famous actor known for his Mr Q robot movie roles, is yearning to be known for more serious performances. There are numerous minor characters at this fabulous spa (which probably costs several thousand dollars a day), and Fred Ballinger observes them all as if it is a reality TV show. Often going back to the past, several times Fred brings up Gilda Black, a girl from his youth that he and Mick both knew. We are left to wonder if Fred loved her and wishes he had chosen a different path way back when.
This is an interesting film on several levels. To be fair, not much happens as far as action sequences. The story is mostly about Fred and Mick in the late autumn of their lives, comfortable in their long friendship, and we the viewer waiting to discover where they can go from there. Both actors give compelling performances, and Michael Caine is a dark horse candidate for Oscar consideration.
Best Scene: Mick Boyle considers Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda) as the greatest actress he ever knew. Ms Morel shows up late in the film, and her scene with Mick is a doozy. As brief as her time in this film is, Jane Fonda could earn a Supporting Actress nomination. Judy Dench won an Oscar for 8 minutes in a film, so lightning could strike again.
Other Great Scene: Fred and Mick, two old geezers relaxing and having a conversation at the spa indoor pool, which apparently is used by both sexes and in the nude. In walks Miss Universe (Madalina Diana Ghenea), who casually walks into the pool and sits nearby the old gents. Just the looks on the faces of Caine and Keitel is worth the price of this movie ticket.
Dialogue Nuggets: Fred to Mick – “You’re quite the magician of metaphor.”
Lena – “What is she, a prostitute?” Fred – “Worse, a pop star.”
Lena to Fred – “You never gave anything to her or to me. You gave it all to your music.”
Mick – “My childhood, I don’t remember a thing about it.”
Jimmy Tree – “Even California actors, when they’re not getting drunk, snorting coke, or dating anorexic actresses, sometimes read Novalis.”
Mick to Brenda – “I pulled you out from those big, fat producers underpants and made you an actress!”
Music: Yes, there actually is a Simple Song No. 3. It was composed by David Lang, a Pulitzer Prize winner for music and a Grammy winner. Enjoy the amazing soprano voice of Sumi Jo.