‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new geriatric comedy Going in Style is a pleasant diversion but, unfortunately, not much more than that. It is a remake of a 1979 movie of the same name, and frankly, there was not much reason to want to see that movie again. Its main saving grace is that three powerhouse actors, all Oscar winners with at least a half-century of experience, know how to create wonderful characters even when the script is lacking.
Willie (Morgan Freeman), Joe (Michael Caine) and Albert (Alan Arkin) are three lifelong friends who’ve worked at a Brooklyn steel plant (since Brooklyn is known for its major steel industry) all their lives. They enjoy getting together for friendly discussions, able to get by on their pensions. Joe even helps his daughter and granddaughter get by. Willie gets to Skype with his family, and Albert, the crankiest, has the pleasure of being chased and caught by the sexiest 75-year-old supermarket clerk ever, Annie (Ann-Margret).
Everything seems fine until their company is sold and, as part of the deal, the pension system effectively disappears, leaving the three men (and obviously many others) in dire straits. The trio decide to rob a bank. All three want to do something that will change the ending of their lives. Willie needs a kidney transplant, knows it will not happen and wants money to spend time visiting his family. Joe’s family has been shafted by a nasty mortgage problem, and he wants to be able to leave the money to them. Albert is in love, much to his surprise. Much of the middle of the movie is their preparation for the big heist. Parts are funny, particularly their attempts at shoplifting, which turn into a very low-speed chase.
There are more than a few problems with the film. A lot of the preparation has little to do with an actual robbery, but it does take up time in a fairly short film. The opening is sweet, as we see the old men with their families, then we get gags that are unrelated to the actual “big caper,” and then we have a chase film where our heroes are suddenly the criminals. Another problem is that this is more a “we’re going after the system” film than a revenge flick. The people who shafted the workers are not the target, but underpaid bank employees are.
The best part of the film are the performers. Freeman, Caine and Arkin all have been around giving great performances for decades. They know how to enchant us even while being cantankerous. Arkin has that mode down to a science. A scene where he encourages a poor young saxophonist to quit is a hoot. His romantic moves remind me of how porcupines are supposed to mate… very carefully. Caine is great, particularly in his scenes with his granddaughter Brooklyn (Joey King). Freeman is charming in his scenes on the computer, during which we watch his relationship with his family and his efforts to be natural while facing his impending mortality.
The problem is that they’re all sweet guys. We want them to be able to live out their lives and dreams, but they become criminals. In the earlier version of the film, George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg were far crankier and not nearly as charming. That film was much more cynical, and that worked better. They robbed a bank because they were basically bored. Here, our leads are too likable, their needs very real.
The characters in smaller roles are generally just as good. Ann-Margret is a wonder. Without pretense of being young, she is sexy and funny. King was charming. The only performer I did not care much for was Christopher Lloyd doing his usual bug-eyed weirdo. It’s the same character he has been playing for 40 years, his “Reverend Jim” from Taxi, except here it’s due to dementia, not drugs.
The film is amusing. If there were few real laughs, there was a lot of smiling. But there is no real punch to the movie. I wish it had been better and sharper, if only because there are so few films in which senior citizens are the real protagonists. Also, we do need more comedies.
But, considering ticket prices these days, unless you’re a real fan of the leads, the best way to see it would be to wait for on-demand showings.