A movie that unfolds in a slow, steady, mostly uneventful way is risky business in the age of films like “World War Z” and “Iron Man 3.” But like an octogenarian approaching crisis with the calm that life experience affords, “Still Mine” doesn’t feel the need to employ bells, bombs or zombies to make its quietly effective mark.
While this slight Canadian film has limited appeal for general audiences, seniors and families affected by Alzheimer’s will find much to identify with. Based on a true story, the movie follows 87-year-old Craig Morrison, a New Brunswick farmer struggling to care for his failing wife, Irene (Genevieve Bujold), who is still sharp at cards but falls down stairs and can’t find her way to the bathroom.
As their middle-aged children bicker about what to do, Craig decides to build a smaller, more manageable home on his 200 acres. Trained by his shipwright father, he has no problem with the project until a petty bureaucrat slaps a “Stop work” notice on the frame and says he will bulldoze the place unless Craig gets a building permit and adheres to a daunting morass of costly regulations.
“Is that a threat?” Craig asks. “No. It’s the law,” the small-town Javert replies. And thus, a lanky David goes to court, quietly taking his stand against the government Goliath.
Ostensibly the main plotline, that noble but rather boring story takes a back seat to the private battle against dementia being waged at home. Stoicism isn’t easy to pull off, but Craig is masterfully interpreted by less-is-more James Cromwell, whose age (73) shouldn’t stand in the way of him landing more of the leading roles he deserves. Bujold plays Irene with dignified realism and humor, never a pitiable figure, just a familiar one.
The couple’s bond, decades in the making, is tenderly illustrated in a bedtime scene. Irene looks lovingly at Craig and says, “I want to see you, old man. Take off your clothes.” On the big screen, we are unused to seeing wrinkled, sagging flesh that hasn’t been nipped and tucked to alien proportions, but these lived-in bodies are more than a novelty. They are beautiful.
A bonus for Minnesota viewers: the many reminders of the similarities between the state’s stereotypical character and that of rural Canada. In one scene, a neighbor, concerned about Craig having to cook for Irene, says, “Once a week I’m going to be dropping off a casserole. I’ll want my dish back.”
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