Movie Review: “Elsa & Fred” Is A Timeless Love Story


Review by James McDonald

“Elsa and Fred” is the story of two people who at the end of the road, discover that it’s never too late to love and make dreams come true.

Over the years, as I have matured (although my family might disagree), I find the best love stories to be those that involve senior citizens. Stories like “The Notebook”, “Still Mine” and now, “Elsa & Fred.” When a person has reached their 70s or as is the case here, their 80s, there are no preconceived notions of what to expect from a partner, you either feel comfortable being with someone in your age range and spending time being happy together or you don’t. If you are both still capable of physical intimacy, then more power to you but when it comes right down to it, as we get older, nobody wants to age companionless, having someone beside you, even just to talk, is better than being alone.

In “Elsa & Fred”, we are introduced to Fred (Christopher Plummer), a man in his 80s who is being moved into an upscale apartment in New Orleans by his over-bearing daughter Lydia (Marcia Gay Harden) and her husband Jack (Chris Noth). Lydia has assigned a care-giver, Laverne (Erika Alexander) to look after her father but Fred is insistent that he doesn’t need any help from anybody, even when he needs help from somebody. Enter Elsa (Shirley MacLaine), Fred’s next-door neighbor. Initially upon meeting, neither care for one another but in typical love story fashion, they both let their guards down and gradually become acquainted with each other.

What could have easily turned into a clichéd, run-of-the-mill melodrama, transforms into a genuinely gratifying affair of the heart filled with top-notch performances not just from the film’s two charismatic leads but also from a terrific supporting cast including the aforementioned Chris Noth and Erika Alexander as well as Scott Bakula, George Segal and James Brolin. The characters bicker back and forth and screenwriters Anna Pavignano and Michael Radford add some absolutely hilarious one-liners throughout. In the beginning while Elsa is trying to break the ice with Fred, she asks him “Have you ever heard of Picasso?” He looks at her and responds, deadpan, “You mean the dress designer?”

It’s really one of those quips you have to see and hear in the movie to truly appreciate and the film, thankfully, is infused with many, many more. Elsa spends her nights watching Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita”, poring over the famous fountain scene and instead of Anita Ekberg splashing around in the Fontana di Trevi along with Marcello Mastroiani, she envisions herself and Fred and when he finds out that she is on dialysis and doesn’t have long left to live, he grants her lifelong wish in one of the movie’s most touching and memorable scenes. Director Michael Radford has created a poignant movie filled with intelligence, antagonism, compassion and, most importantly, true love. Very highly recommended.

In select theaters and on VOD now


James McDonald
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