Sometimes, we go to the movies because it’s time to go. And sometimes, ya gotta go in mostly blind because the alternatives (in this case Won’t Back Down) seem particularly unappealing.
And so it came to pass that we found ourselves watching the critically acclaimed Fred Won’t Move Out, starring the critically acclaimed Elliot Gould. It runs about an hour-and-ten and when it was over, we agreed that it wasn’t really a movie. It was about 2/3rds of a movie. Maybe 3/4s.
Now, what’s there is pretty good. Very low-key. But while it poses the problem (in the very title) and even gets to the critical point where it might become a very serious problem, or something (kinda), the movie ends.
Well, of course, there’s a reason that drama follows a particular narrative structure and you mess with that at your peril.
Anyway, this is a movie about an old couple (Elliot Gould, who’s only in his early 70s, and Judith Roberts) who live in their increasingly dilapidated house with only one helper (Mfonsio Udofia) to cook their meals and clean up, and to do a lot of caring for the wife, who has advanced Alzheimer’s. They’re visited by their children (Fred Melamed and Stephanie Haberle, amsuingly and perhaps coincidentally named “Bob” and “Carol”), who are distraught (and highly inconvenienced) by their parents’ country home, and want to move their mother into a home in the city.
And, there’s your movie.
The lead character is really Bob, and Melamed (who was the serious man in A Serious Man—not the lead, but the lead’s antagonist) plays him convincingly. He’s a struggling, wannabe moviemaker who sees echoes of himself in his father, in an old friend, in the doof who comes to his parents’ house and plays songs on a synthesizer so they can all sing (“music therapy”).
Well, let me rephrase that: we see those echos, but Bob is struggling hard not to see them. There are little vignettes throughout the film, but not one of them goes anywhere. There’s an emerald frog, a Christian jogger (the family is Jewish, though not practicing by all accounts). There’s a story of a box company that Fred tells, but we don’t know if it was his company, and if that’s the company that Bob now runs.
They sporadically call their parents “Fred” and “Susan” and sometimes “mom” and “dad” but we don’t ever know why. In the opening scenes it seems like Bob and Carol are husband and wife—I mean, it takes a while before you realize they’re brother and sister. (Took us a while anyway.) They call water “vodka”, I guess because they didn’t drink any more. Fred misses his cat, not remembering that it’s dead.
None of this stuff is explained. None of it goes anywhere. It’s a slice-of-life movie that shows a small window into some kids whose parents are near death.
There are certainly some touching moments here, but the characters seem small, and the movie itself highly exploitative. That is, it derives its emotional power not so much from involving character development that allows you to appreciate the suffering of the elderly, but more from a lot of the detailed nitty-gritty about advanced stages of Alzheimer’s.
Gould and Roberts play their roles well, but the effect is more gut-wrenching than anything.
I guess you could say we didn’t hate it, but we couldn’t really approve of it, either. Make of that what you will.