With a title like Our Souls at Night, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’re talking about a brooding teen vampire film, and the fact is that nothing could be further from the truth – in this small, honest and very true-to-life tale of romance amid ‘golden years’, we have the rare treat of seeing a pair of old fashioned movie stars display something too rarely seen on the screen – romance amid dotage.
There’s nothing complex about the tale as it unfolds – a widow (Jane Fonda) and a widower (Robert Redford), neighbours for decades but not even remotely close, get together for the sake of companionship at night time – just for company and conversation. That, as the guidebook for romantic dramedies prescribe, becomes something more. There are no surprises, no grandiose acting moments, no sudden plot twists.
Even moments of drama are handled off screen, and as a matter of fact. Someone has a fall; someone else needs help; challenges are encountered and dealt with in a matter-of-fact way. The fact that this movie got made is one thing, and the fact that it’s available on Netflix is another thing entirely – it’s a tough sell in all likelihood to get people to go to the cinema to see a pair of actors hovering around 80 play new boyfriend and girlfriend, in a setting where the big plot twist is little more than the acquisition of a dog.
Fonda, 79, and Redford 81, possess an eventual ease and what you’d have to say is chemistry (these two have been paired on screen several times before: The Chase, Barefoot in the Park and The Electric Horseman). So it is something like slipping into a comfortable pair of shoes. Redford doesn’t emote a great deal; his performance is one of unspoken moments, a shuffling resolution and contemplative, furtive glances. He looks every bit of his years (save from the still colourful hair); like Fonda he is not given grand, ‘actorly’ moments to deliver awards-bait soliloquys by screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. This pair have adapted Alan Kent Haruf’s novel to provide both thespians with ample room to breathe, for the characters to grow and inhabit a very natural, and naturalistic mise-en-scene.
Strictly speaking, this is a romantic comedy, and there are hints of humour throughout, in the absence of straight-up gags. The whole thing epitomises subtlety: Fonda has here moment to shine when she recalls a particularly devastating tragedy from previous years, but its handled with quiet dignity rather than with scenery chewing.
Our Souls art Night is one of those rare things – placing older folks front-and-centre in a story of burgeoning romance; its small, sweet and anathema to cynicism.
Currently streaming on Netflix