Still Mine is one of those films just full of those things that we’re told the road to hell is paved with. However, the Good Intentions here lead to a pretty nice little movie on old age that’s distinguished by the performances of James Cromwell and Geneviève Bujold — though side-tracked by a clunky David vs. Goliath plot about, wait for it, building codes. The film comes to us from Canada, written and directed by Canadian Michael McGowan, whose previous movies do not appear to have crossed the border. A brief look suggests his films have a strong tendency toward the uplifting — and this one is no different.
Movies about couples in their twilight years are not unheard of, but neither are they quite common — nor have they ever proved terribly popular. The upshot is that there’s a tendency to overpraise them when they show up. For my money, the best of them is still Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow (1937), but unlike the current crop, this classic dealt with old age, poverty and the world having no place for the elderly. Recently, with Sarah Polley’s Away from Her (2006) and, of course, last year’s “feel bad” critical darling, Amour, from Michael Haneke, the topic is more centered on old age and disease, notably Alzheimer’s. Still Mine, though in the Alzheimer’s group, is a very different proposition — and not, I think, a very honest one, despite its claims of being a “true story.” Even without the melodramatic little-guy-takes-on-the-bureaucrats story, this is Alzheimer’s Lite — with most of the really unpleasant aspects kept carefully at arm’s length. In essence, it’s a TV movie with all the simplifications that suggests. But it’s a TV movie raised to something more by Cromwell and Bujold.
The premise has crusty octogenarian Craig Morrison (Cromwell) finding himself at odds with both the modern world and wife Irene’s (Bujold) increasingly difficult condition. It starts fairly subtly with Morrison finding himself stuck with a load of strawberries that can’t be sold because the store that usually buys them can no longer buy strawberries that aren’t delivered in a refrigerated truck. (This, it should be noted, is a corporate decision and not a government regulation.) The real problem comes when he decides to build a single-level home in which he can better take care of Irene. The idea of plans and permits and codes is both foreign and odious to him — and all seemingly under the control of a little tin-pot dictator (Jonathan Potts, Dream House), who I’d guess sleeps in his hard-hat. These building codes, unfortunately, form the dramatic arc of the story. More to the point, it’s the plot that intrudes on the more interesting story of Craig and Irene.
If you can set aside the film’s melodrama — since it is clearly intended to be more uplifting than a Wonderbra, you know where that’s going from the first scenes — there is a pretty good story here just in the human element. Despite the too comfortable depiction of Alzheimer’s, the relationship between Craig and Irene is worth seeing. For that matter, so is the array of broader relationships with their children and friends. But what it really comes down to are those lead performances. Cromwell — who doesn’t often get anywhere even close to the star turn — is remarkable in his ability to suggest the deep reserves of warmth beneath his crusty exterior. Bujold underplays most of her scenes, effectively relying on her eyes to convey both her confusion and the realization of what’s happening to her for most of the film. It’s just unfortunate that the film containing these performances isn’t as good as they are. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and brief sensuality/partial nudity.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas