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The Independent Critic

Joseph Bologna, Dyan Cannon, Len Cariou, Brenda Vaccaro
Susan Seidelman
Susan Seidelman, Jonathan Brett
Rated PG-13
105 Mins.
Roadside Attractions/Samuel Goldwyn Co.
 "Boynton Beach Club" Review 
In an era and society where aging is often treated with disgust, fear and, at the very least, disrespect, "Boynton Beach Club" is an unusual film.

Remember your shock at seeing the likes of Shirley Jones and Doris Roberts in the recent "Grandma's Boy?" Sure, it was funny watching them play lively, active and highly sexed senior citizens. Admit it, though, it was a little creepy.

"Boynton Beach Club," co-written and directed by Susan Seidelman based upon a story written by her mother, is a dignified, tender and easygoing film about a group of older men and women struggling to deal with life changes, the deaths of spouses, independence and people around them who just don't understand.

Lacking in the usual condescension and cutesieness that often lurks underneath these types of films, "Boynton Beach Club" deals in a fairly straightforward manner with the lives and relationships of its characters.

The film starts by introducing Marilyn (Brenda Vaccaro), a happily married woman whose husband clearly adores her. When he leaves for his morning stroll and is subsequently run over by a careless, cell-phone yapping neighbor (Renee Taylor), Marilyn's grief hits hard and fast. She, in turn, is invited by Lois (Dyan Cannon) to attend a meeting of the Boynton Beach Bereavement Club.

In quick order, we are introduced to the freshly grieving Jack (Len Cariou), whose wife died a mere 3 1/2 months ago and who is befriended at the meeting by the club's obvious Casanova, Harry (Joseph Bologna).

Let's be honest. Seidelman has never really fulfilled the potential she showed in the Madonna vehicle "Desperately Seeking Susan." Films such as "Smithereens," "She-Devil" and "Cookie" have pretty much relegated Seidelman to television in recent years. In fact, "Boynton Beach Club" often plays with a sitcom feel to it resembling a cross between "Maude" and "The Golden Girls." What makes this particularly troubling is that a wonderful storyline filled with respectful and dignified characters is ultimately weighed down by dialogue that doesn't measure up to its characters. Only Seidelman's occasional witty one-liners come across with any energy and zest...the rest of the film is filled with strong actors doing the best they can with mediocre material.

The film is, ultimately, saved from mediocrity by a cast clearly invested in the best parts they've seen in years. Dyan Cannon, nearly 70 now, is simply wonderful as a young, vivacious woman who still sparkles as she begins dating a younger man (an excellent Michael Nouri). Likewise, Cariou draws out a multi-layered performance as a widow torn between grief, loneliness and his attraction to the flirty Sandi (Sally Kellerman). Kellerman, too, offers her strongest performance in years as a sexy, sensitive searching older woman.

Bologna offers his usual marvelous blend of sensitive and self-confidence in a character who clearly embraces being a ladies' man even as he cruises the online personals nearly each and every night. Vaccaro isn't quite as convincing in portraying the newly grieving Marilyn, and a scene where she finally confronts the woman who ran over her husband is underwritten and ineffective.

There are, of course, supporting characters in the film. They are largely irrelevant, with the exception of Kim Ostrenko as Linda, Jack's daughter. Ostrenko makes the most of a character who grieves the loss of her mother, struggles to understand her father and clearly can't understand her own daughter. It's a sympathetic, effective performance in a brief supporting role.

With a budget of $2.9 million, "Boynton Beach Club" is also a reminder of how little Hollywood values its stars of yesteryear. While none of these performers may have made much making this film, they've certainly made the most of it. While the film is far from a run-away hit, it is nearing profitability and should enjoy a solid run on the arthouse circuit and on DVD.

The film's production values are solid, though I had to chuckle as I heard the film's opening song, "Love and Marriage," once the theme song for TV's "Married With Children." That particular song is so deeply planted in my brain with that irreverent television show that I had a hard time listening to it in the context of this film. Otherwise, the film's easygoing, adult pop selections play nicely within the film's action and mood.

"Boynton Beach Club" is a reminder of both the strengths and weaknesses of Susan Seidelman. Seidelman has always had a knack for treating even the most unique characters with a humanity and respect, however, she continues to have trouble fleshing them out and giving them decent dialogue. The result is a film that rests almost solely on the strength of its cast. Fortunately, in this case, the cast is up to the task. "Boynton Beach Club" is a lightweight yet modestly entertaining look at life, love and loss and the challenges we so often face as we get older.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic