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MRQE Top Critic

Burt's Buzz

Sellout? Tool? Dupe? Better to just get to know the real Burt than to judge. —Marty Mapes (review...)

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In Unfinished Song, Vanessa Redgrave proves impressive as an indomitable woman who refuses to allow terminal cancer to keep her from participating in the amateur choir that meets in the community center of the small British town where she and her husband reside. A more mannered Terence Stamp keeps pace as her grump of a husband, a retiree who desperately tries to shelter his ailing wife. Stamp’s Arthur is afraid that Redgrave’s Marion will hasten her demise by attending too many choir practices. Of course, he’s even more afraid of losing her.

Can too much singing be bad for you?
Can too much singing be bad for you?

Writer/director Paul Andrew Williams can’t entirely avoid sentimentality, and the movie’s choir sounds anything but amateurish as it works on unlikely tunes such as Salt-N-Pepa’s Let’s Talk About Sex. I suppose we’re meant to find humor in the fact that aging singers would tackle such youth-oriented material, but it’s an awfully cheap joke.

Gemma Arterton, also on view this week in Neil Jordan’s Byzantium, plays the militantly cheerful music teacher who leads the choir and who eventually persuades Stamp’s grieving character to participate. In a scene that doesn’t quite mesh with the rest of the movie, the screenplay suggests that Aterton’s character may be hanging around with older people as a form of emotional protection from serious involvement with people her own age. An underdeveloped subplot puts Arthur into conflict with his son James (Christopher Eccleston).

Some audiences will find Williams’s movie moving (Stamp’s solo rendition of Billy Joel’s Lullaby is meant to be a tear-jerker), but too much about Unfinished Song seems pre-packaged for seniors, and too little of it feels as if it involves any sort of genuine discovery.