Reviewed by GREG KING.
Director: Anthony Byrne
Stars: Vanessa Redgrave, Hayley Atwell, Brenda Fricker, Imelda Staunton, Joss Ackland, Orly Brady, Joan O’Hara.
How About You is another wonderful, warm and enjoyable film about feisty old folks facing their own mortality, reflecting back on the past and their faded dreams, and learning some late inspirational lessons in life. It follows in the footsteps of other recent British films dealing with similar themes, like Mrs Palfrey At The Claremont and Mrs Caldicott’s Cabbage War.
The film is set in a small, privately owned residential nursing home run by the widowed Kate (Orla Brady). The nursing home is facing bankruptcy, and a health inspector is checking up on the place and its standards of care. The appalling behaviour of four cantankerous, foul mouthed, selfish and bitter residents has driven away many other residents and scared off prospective new customers. They have “checked out of life and checked into here”, where they pass their time in a monotonous routine waiting to die.
Georgia (Vanessa Redgrave) is a former screen beauty who still lives on her past triumphs. Donald (Joss Ackland) is a former high court judge who was forced to take early retirement because of his drinking. Spinster sisters Hazel (Imelda Staunton) and Heather (Brenda Fricker) share a tragic past and have spent most of their adult lives away from the real world. Kate’s younger sister Ellie (Hayley Atwell), something of a free spirit, arrives for a brief visit. But circumstances force Kate to leave Ellie in charge over Christmas.
Tired of the arguments, their petty demands, the endless insults, and their bossy demeanour, Ellie determines to get her four reluctant charges to celebrate Christmas as a family, albeit a highly dysfunctional one. The experience proves to be something of a catharsis for all. They are forced to confront old painful secrets, atone for their past mistakes and failures, seek forgiveness, and try to heal old wounds.
Based on a short story written by Irish novelist Maeve Binchy (Circle Of Friends, etc) How About You is a touching and life affirming film, although it occasionally becomes a little sentimental. However, How About You avoids the sort of unnecessary saccharine overdoes that tends to dominate such films when made in Hollywood, thanks to some subtle direction from Anthony Byrne.
Better known as a director of short films, Byrne draws some excellent performances from a wonderful ensemble cast of veteran performers. Redgrave is particularly touching and brings her usual authority to her performance as the faded star. Ackland brings a touch of class to his role as the gruff and surly Donald, and eventually elicits sympathy from the audience. Staunton and Fricker bring a touch of humour and pathos to their roles as the continually bickering sisters.
The film is touchingly dedicated to the late Joan O’Hara, who plays the only other elderly resident we briefly come to meet, who offers Ellie some sage advice about life and death.