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Unfinished Song

Song For Marion 2012 | 93 min | PG-13 | 2.39:1

Unfinished Song


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Theatrical release date

 21 June, 2013
 22 February, 2013

Country of origin

 United Kingdom



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Unfinished Song


Unfinished Song Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, July 2, 2013

There’s no reason why “Unfinished Song” (titled “Song for Marion” elsewhere) should work. It’s schmaltz with more than few derivative turns of plot, and it borders on being too corny for comfort. This is where casting is the utmost importance, with stars Terence Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave, and Gemma Arterton making the most of an impossible situation, infusing heart and soul into an otherwise artificial experience. Simplistic, but blessedly so, “Unfinished Song” is only out to warm up its audience, inducing tears and smiles as three actors keep the production palatable despite its serious lean toward a manipulative disaster.

Arthur (Terence Stamp) is a hardened retiree working diligently to protect wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) from feeling the full effects of her battle with cancer. To stimulate her senses, Marion takes part in a senior citizen choir, led by educator Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton), who teaches the older folk about the aural liberation of Salt-n-Pepa, Motorhead, and Cyndi Lauper. Entering the group, known as the OAP’Z (“Old-Age Pensioners”), into a singing content, Elizabeth looks to Marion’s solo work as a guiding force. However, when her cancer makes a return, Arthur is faced with a future without his wife, taking his frustrations out on his estranged son, James (Christopher Eccleston). When Marion passes away, Arthur is left with little to distract him, eventually joining the OAP’Z as a tribute to his wife. Bonding with Elizabeth, Arthur still has profound issues of grief to work through before he can take the stage, unable to process the death of his partner and his place in a musical group that’s always baffled him.

If the plot sounds vaguely familiar, the 2007 documentary “Young at Heart” also explored the senior choir culture, spotlighting a group using pop music to energize performances and make themselves heard. “Unfinished Song” basically repurposes the idea, only here the cutesiness of the musical approach is dialed down to only a handful of scenes, with much of the movie devoted to Elizabeth attempting to get her crew excited about the prospect of belting out “Let’s Talk About Sex” and “Ace of Spades.” The performance scenes are expectedly silly, reaching out to the broad audience as the seniors attempt to makes sense out of flashing devil horns or chat cheekily about the explicit lyrics. Writer/director Paul Andrew Williams doesn’t shy away from obvious punchlines, but he doesn’t overindulge either, keeping choir shenanigans to only a few presentations, preferring to remain with Arthur and his quest to grasp the process of mourning.

With subplots that touch on estranged children and the concentration of rehearsal, it’s a miracle “Unfinished Song” is digestible at all. Williams doesn’t show much originality, but he’s quick to offer sincerity, wisely bringing in top-notch talent to massage potentially cardboard characterizations, gifting the picture a spirit it wouldn’t otherwise possess. Stamp is especially valuable, using his steely demeanor to portray a man calcified by routine, unable to compute anything that’s millimeters beyond the tight confines of his world. Arthur barks at strangers and is seemingly cold to Marion, but inside is a frightened man unprepared to become a widower. Stamp maintains vulnerability about Arthur, allowing the audience to figure out his rusted emotional machinery, making poignant scenes of memory and group participation all the more satisfying, sharing cozy chemistry with Redgrave. Arterton has a difficult role of cheerleading, but she turns in solid work as Elizabeth, making sure to balance choir conductor animation with real-world blues, with the leader retreating into the OAP’Z to escape her disastrous love life. It’s not much, but Arterton makes the worry count, also adding needed pluck to performance sequences.

“Unfinished Song” is a tear-jerker, and an effective one at that. Dealing with death and emotional rebirth, it’s difficult to sit passively as Arthur develops his singing chops or works through the emptiness of life without Marion. It helps to have Stamp committing wholeheartedly to the role, yet Williams is graceful with gawky, formulaic material, eagerly providing the basics in audience-pleasing antics while making sure to remain honest with emotion. In a movie as potentially plastic as “Unfinished Song,” it’s a relief to walk away from the work with a feeling of fullness, and not just a headache from all the saccharine.

Starring: Terence Stamp, Gemma Arterton, Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Eccleston, Anne Reid
Director: Paul Andrew Williams

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