Pleasing documentary "Young@Heart" is as poignant as it is funny.
If the choir of senior citizens in this film can make a prison yard full of inmates weep, then no one's heartstrings are safe from tugging.
There is just something warm and fuzzy about a group of old-timers traveling the land singing covers of iconic pop songs by the likes of the Clash, Coldplay and James Brown. It's also perfect fodder for a documentary. Such is the case with "Young@Heart," in which a British film crew follows this New England chorus for seven weeks as it prepares for a concert.
The singers' average age is 80, which can make getting out of a seat for a solo an epic adventure. Even so, director Stephen Walker, who also narrates the film, finds the motley crew of seniors to be a lively bunch, saying that he felt like he was taking on "24 new grandparents."
"Young@Heart" is as funny and playful as you'd think it would be. In fact, Walker and his crew are so sure they have a crowd-pleaser that the film opens with an audience giving the choir a standing ovation. But we quickly find that getting the group to memorize, for example, the hyperactive vocals of a James Brown tune is no easy feat. The choir's director, Bob Cilman, 53, is the taskmaster, and is described by one choir member as someone who "chews nails and spits rust."
Of course, the film's cutesy charm comes from the situations Cilman puts the group in. Seeing them sing Dylan's "Forever Young" for the prison inmates -- precious. Watching them cover their ears in terror as they're forced to learn Sonic Youth's punk anthem, "Schizophrenia" -- hilarious. Seeing them fuss and fiddle with the CDs Cilman gives them to take home -- cuter than a box full of kittens.
But after one singer dies during filming, it becomes clear that "Young@Heart" has as much to say about these old-timers' lives -- and their resiliency -- as it does about rocking choral music. Now in the twilight of their lives, the group deals with blood transfusions, cancer and cardiac arrest. In many ways, this serious side of "Young@Heart" is what ultimately makes the film memorable.
One of the choir's most touching personalities is Fred Knittle, a big man with a deep, Johnny Cash-type voice. He had retired from the chorus and returns to visit his comrades, now with an oxygen tank after suffering congestive heart failure. Knittle speaks eloquently about the travails of old age, and his rendition of Coldplay's "Fix You" near the end of the film is a moment you won't forget.
Nowadays, movies rarely star anyone over 70. But here's one that does, and you'll be clapping in your seat about it.
Tom Horgen • 612-673-7909