I found this film extremely frustrating; on the one hand it
treats its senior-citizen characters as “cute” and then delivers moments of
genuine pathos that cause you to tear up.
I’m a fairly easy mark for cheap sentiment, but Unfinished Song put me to the test by
repeatedly switching gears. Writer-director Paul Andrew Williams’ most inspired
idea was casting Vanessa Redgrave in the key role of Marion—a loving wife and
mother who refuses to allow cancer to dim her spirit. She finds joy and purpose
singing in a choir at her local community center, led by a lively young schoolteacher
(Gemma Arterton). Her taciturn husband (Terence Stamp) resents the group’s relentless
optimism. He doesn’t mind taking Marion to and from her sessions but refuses to
even step inside; he’s miserable at the thought of losing her and can’t be
jollied out of his mordant mood.
It should come as no surprise that Redgrave is luminous; she
refuses to surrender to mawkishness in her portrayal of a dying woman. The
highlight of the movie, which I won’t spoil by describing in detail, features
her solo rendition of a moving song. (Elsewhere, Arterton’s character finds
delight in having her aged choristers sing such incongruous numbers as “Love
Shack” and “Let’s Talk About Sex.” I’m not kidding.)
Ultimately, the story centers on Stamp’s need to come out of
his shell and make peace with his grown son (Christopher Eccleston), whom he’s
always kept at arm’s length. Inevitably, spunky Arterton has a lot to do with
softening his dim worldview.
I can’t fault the actors or their performances. Arterton is
adorable, and Stamp does his best with a character whose evolution isn’t always
credible. But it’s Vanessa Redgrave who validates Unfinished Song. Too bad the film as a whole isn’t as honest and
moving as she is.