Just as wishing didn't make Snakes on a Plane a better movie, politeness to the aged won't make The Boynton Beach Club more profound than the ordinary teen-date movie--even if the characters are prepping for their upcoming date with the Reaper. The romantic problems of these retirees cannot distract us from the wide segment of cinema history director, producer and co-writer Susan Seidelman encompasses onscreen.
Seidelman was one of the first indie filmmakers to emerge from New York, with 1982's Smithereens and her 1985 Desperately Seeking Susan. Boynton Beach Club, co-written with her 75-year-old mother, Florence, is a tag-team movie, set in a plush development for senior citizens in Florida, not to far from Boca Raton.
At the beginning, Marilyn (Brenda Vaccaro) loses her beloved husband in a traffic accident. The death leads her into the true social circle at Boynton Beach, the Bereavement Club, where those who have lost their mates find shoulders to cry on--as well as new mates. Women there include the sixtyish hottie Lois (Dyan Cannon). Cannon has had much work done, and is today as unnervingly sleek and voluptuously lipped as Mick Jagger. The best line in the film is Marilyn's assessment of Lois, when she's all dressed up: "The men will all be drooling."
"Big deal," Lois replies, "most of them already are drooling."
King among men in the area is Joe Bologna as Harry. He is the local senior-citizen stud, a kid in a diabetic candy store. Another resident, the grieving Jack, is played by Len Cariou, the most convincing performance here. Cariou is the one who plays the scene of getting Viagra from the pharmacy; it's a late, maybe the last, version of the ancient teen-movie gag about getting condoms from the nosy pharmacist.
Seidelman has eliminated all of the parts of Florida that don't match the real-estate pamphlets. And it's hard to get a sense of what sort of lives these people had before they retired. As scriptwriters, the mother and daughter team have eliminated all the more interesting parts of aging: the wars with the insurance companies, the sometimes angry relations with their kids and the chance for volunteer work. While Boynton Beach Club assures us old people are vibrant and interesting, it focuses on the most commonplace part of their lives.
All we can do to fill the hollows is to remember how we all once felt about the performers. There's Cannon, who was married to Cary Grant, right in the same movie where Jack rebukes himself, "Who do you think you are, Cary Grant?" In one scene, Sally Kellerman bares her breasts. Instead of thinking, "How brave, at her age," we think, "That's what the gang in Altman's M.A.S.H. worked so hard to get a look at."
Vaccaro, with her throaty voice and succulent flesh, was once romanced onscreen by Robert Mitchum. In 2006, she's every inch a sit-com nana. Being disinterested in Boynton Beach Club is not a matter of refusing to accept the reality of what age did to these actors. Rather, it's a case of not having a convincing enough fantasy to displace the older, more vivid images, left behind by previous movies.
'Boynton Beach Club' opens at the Rialto Lakeside Cinemas on Friday, Sept. 15.
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