A quick look at the roster
for "Elsa & Fred" reveals the involvement of three Oscar winners, a couple of Oscar nominees and the dudes from "Quantum Leap," the original "Fun with Dick and Jane" and "Sex and the City." The movie certainly has a formidable pedigree.
It also has a creepy scene late in the film where Shirley MacLaine reenacts Anita Ekberg's fountain dance from "La Dolce Vita." It's a totally weird. awkward moment amongst many in this hackneyed attempt at a senior romance from director Michael Radford ("Il Postino: The Postman," Nineteen Eighty-Four").
Widower Fred (Christopher Plummer) moves into an apartment with a caregiver at the insistence of his annoying daughter, Lydia (Marcia Gay Harden). He just wants to watch TV and not comb his hair, while his abhorrent son-in-law Jack (Chris Noth) tries to get his money for a get rich scheme.
Next door resides Elsa (MacLaine), an eccentric who barges in on the crotchety Fred, imploring him to go out and do things. The two eventually start dating, immediately progress into love, and wind up taking a very expensive trip to Italy where MacLaine performs the aforementioned freaky fountain frolicking.
Fred thinks Elsa is a pain in the ass when they first meet, which she is. He falls in love with Elsa because, well, the story really needs him too. Elsa does the same with Fred, and the movie never really explains and justifies why these two become smitten with each other. It just figures that the two people are old and living next to each other so we should just buy them as a couple. In reality, they are a true mismatch dreadfully lacking in screen chemistry.
Things aren't helped by a strong supporting cast given little to do other than fulfilling some plot contrivances. In addition to Harden and Noth, there's Scott Bakula as Elsa's weary son, George Segal as Fred's nosy doctor and James Brolin as Elsa's ex-husband. They all basically show up for what were probably two or three days on the set, deliver their terrible scenes, and go buy shiny cars with their paychecks.
It's hard to watch Plummer and MacLaine going through the motions of a screenplay that doesn't deserve them. Plummer seems especially lost. He's an actor used to highbrow, sophisticated material now being asked to share yogurt with a cat. Fluffy romantic comedy pap doesn't suit the man.
Both he and MacLaine are clearly trying to give their characters memorable traits. Elsa is free-spirited and kooky while Fred is an introvert with a bug up his ass. As much as both of them labor to create something special, they are both chained to writing and directing that is beneath them.
If it isn't bad enough that the movie is a clichéd romantic comedy, it progresses into clichéd Disease-of-the-Week movie late in the proceedings. The whole thing comes off as something that should've been aired on the Hallmark channel rather than something requiring a trip to the theater.
I'm thinking they got Plummer and MacLaine involved by promising them a trip to Italy. The final act of the film does, indeed, take place overseas in Rome, and has the quality of a slipshod tourist video shot on and iPhone. The two stars appear to be having fun, so it's nice that they got to go stare at the Colosseum for a couple of days on somebody else's dime, I guess. Gee, I'm really stretching for nice things to say about this movie, aren't I?
No doubt, you have a couple of great performers on hand when Plummer and MacLaine headline your film. The same can't be said for the script, co-written by Radford and based on a 2005 Spanish film of the same name. For the life of me, I can't understand why somebody thought this story needed to be told twice.