Elsa & Fred Blu-ray Review
How do I know Hollywood is tough? Because I just watched a charming film starring three Academy Award winners, co-written and directed by a man who has been Oscar nominated in both categories that never saw the light of day in a movie theatre. Apparently there just weren’t enough robots in it.
When we meet Elsa (MacLaine), she is leaving her apartment, unaware that a new tenant is moving in next door. That new neighbor is Fred (Plummer), seven months a winner and moved into his new digs against his wishes. His daughter (Marcia Gay Harden) wants him closer to her. She has also arranged for some full time “company,” a woman that will care for Fred no matter how much he protests. Eventually Elsa and Fred meet, become friends and slowly build a relationship that each one has longed for.
A charming and captivating film, ELSA & FRED is buoyed by the performances of 80 year old MacLaine and 85 year old Plummer, who both made me feel old by their joyous performances. Fred has resigned himself to sitting home in his apartment, not wanting to walk in the nearby park or even play the guitar he once loved. Elsa slowly reminds him of what fun life used to be. Whether watching her favorite film, Fellini’s LA DOLCE VITA, or encouraging Fred to dine and dash from a fancy restaurant, Elsa lights up Fred’s life. But Elsa also has some secrets, some of which she shares and some of which she fibs about. But it’s obvious that these two were meant to be together.
Michael Radford, the director of the Oscar-nominated IL POSTINO, is a master at relationship/love stories. Here he puts his camera in between two talented people and gets out of the way. The pacing is crisp, the dialogue funny (and occasionally poignant) and the supporting cast pitch perfect. Besides Oscar winner Harden the cast includes Scott Bakula, Chris Noth, George Segal and young Jared Gilman, who was so good as the lovesick scout in Wes Anderson’s MOONRISE KINGDOM. And how nice it is to see James Brolin at work. He’s been a favorite of mine since MARCUS WELBY in the 1970s.
Technically, the film stands out as well. Radford and cinematographer Michael McDonough make great use of the films New Orleans setting. And a visit to Rome could be used as a travelogue. The shots at the Fontana di Trivi are beautiful. It’s easy to see how Fellini could fall in love with its beauty and it is this scene, and it’s correlation with Elsa and her long-time dream, that helps maintain the sweet tone of the film. Very rarely do I enjoy “Americanized” versions of foreign films (ELSA & FRED is based on a 2005 Argentine film of the same name) but I found this one to be well done, thanks in part to the work of two great practitioners of their craft. Too bad it took 50 years in Hollywood to put them together!
Video: Presented in its original 2:39.1 aspect ratio, the film is smartly transferred and brightly lit. Colors are a little muted but the outdoor locations soar.
Audio: Available in both Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0, the soundtrack is a little on the quiet side during conversations.
“Making Of” Featurette (18:51): A pretty standard “behind the scenes” piece highlighted by Christopher Plummer playing classical music on a piano.