In the late ‘60s, the so-called ‘New Hollywood Movement’ looked like it was going to change movie history, and Robert Redford and Jane Fonda (or as she was mostly known then for various fascinating historical reasons, ‘Hanoi Jane’,) were at the forefront of the movement. Now, they come together (pun very much intended) again for Our Souls at Night, a film for this generation’s revolutionary film force, Netflix.
Though this is their first film together since 1979’s The Electric Horseman, both have previous with the streaming site. Redford starred earlier this year in The Discovery, a strange sci-fi mystery, while Jane Fonda is pretty much the dowager of Netflix, appearing in three series’ of ‘Grace & Frankie.’ Fans of either will be surprised by Our Souls at Night, which stars them playing against type, as two retirees who decide to sleep together (in the same bed, not sexually) to stave off loneliness.
One of the film’s major problems, but one it mostly manages to somewhat overcome, is believing in Fonda as a dowdy widow. Redford has grown into a grizzled look, but Jane Fonda still looks unbelievable at nearly 80, and just putting a gray wig on her (which they might have taken from Lily Tomlin’s ‘Grace & Frankie’ trailer) doesn’t quite sell it. This is the Jane Fonda of incredibly energetic workouts who just a few weeks ago was rocking a ponytail on the red carpet, so seeing her hobbling around in your grandmother’s lounge-wear takes some getting used to.
That said, the film does win you around. Part of that is the chemistry between the actors, particularly as they find themselves caring for her grandson halfway through the film. You can really tell this is a pair who have been in four previous films together, and are undoubtedly comfortable working with each other, making the scenes they share together a joy – such a joy, in fact, that you find yourself disappointed when we have to spend time with their children, even if Matthias Schoenaerts (Fonda’s) and Judy Greer (Redford’s) give good performances. Plus, you can breathe a sigh of relief that Redford and Fonda are taking roles like this in their old age rather than doing a Dirty Grandpa.
The other part is some nice touches from director Ritesh Batra, who between this and The Sense of an Ending is making a great niche for himself in directing solid films about elderly people and their regrets – not bad for someone still two years away from 40. Mostly, his direction is like one of the flannel shirts Redford wears throughout this film – comfortable, but not flashy in any way. However, in one scene, he puts the group of old men that Redford goes to coffee with wear cowboy hats. With this simple idea, the whole film opens up, and we think of the two central characters as the older versions of Fonda’s and Redford’s famous characters, trying to get a few last moments of happiness after full lives. They lived through the era of free love, but now all they’re looking for is someone to share a bed with. It’s almost like the Sundance Kid survived that jump, but could not escape an old age where he is a remnant of another era.
‘Butch Cassidy’, funnily enough, shares this film’s biggest problem – an overbearing and
obnoxious soundtrack. Just like the former is enough to make you hate ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head’ forever, this film is so full of folksy strumming that it’ll make you scream ‘I GET IT, THIS FILM IS MEANT TO BE FOLKSY AND BITTERSWEET’ after about 10 minutes. If you can get over that annoyance, however, this is an enjoyable film, though you may just want to share a bed with it rather than go all the way.
Contribution By Samuel Spencer