Review: STILL MINE, Playing Ball With Whipper-Snapper Bureaucrats

Featured Critic; St. Louis, MO
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Review: STILL MINE, Playing Ball With Whipper-Snapper Bureaucrats
In the humble, old-person movie Still Mine, James Cromwell and Geneviève Bujold play an aging couple (married for 61 years) who are, of course, irrevocably set in their ways but nonetheless continue to face life's challenges, particularly when it comes to mortality, relationships, and the darn changing world. 

It's straightforward, pleasantly paced, and well acted -- in other words, not asking a lot of viewers, but ought to still leave them with at least a little something. On the whole, it works better than not. In some of the film's better moments, I was reminded of Leonard Cohen's 1995 tune "Tower of Song." A particularly relevant passage goes like this:

I see you standing on the other side
I don't know how the river got so wide
I loved you baby, way back when
And all the bridges are burning that we might have crossed
But I feel so close to everything that we lost
We'll never have to lose it again

Many a songwriter will tell you that song is something brilliant. And don't get me wrong; even though I'm drawing a glowing analogy here and now between "Tower of Song" and Still Mine, the film on the whole is not something brilliant. But when it's at its heartfelt best, there are glimmers of brilliant honesty. When it's not at its best, it plays like a Hallmark version of Amour.

Although Cromwell takes center stage as Craig Morrison, Bujold manages to shine (quite importantly) as the vulnerable Irene, whose failing memory is a point of harsh reality that Craig first denies, then must confront, and finally find reconciliation with. They carry the film as a couple who've clearly been through a wringer or two, but have persevered. Cromwell and Bujold have solid chemistry together, although their intimate scenes become a bit unintentionally snickery seeing that he's a good head taller than her ... when he's leaning down.

Cromwell's Morrison is a spry and sure-handed 87-year-old man. He decides to build from the ground up a new, single-story smaller home on their vast New Brunswick property. This ambitious undertaking is part practical solution for what Irene needs (getting her into a less complicated house with no staircase), and part denial of the pending mortality all around him. 

Craig can work a sawmill, climb a ladder, and frame up a corner better than many a whimper snapper half his age. (And don't you forget it!) He has little patience or understanding for the legal harassments and "stop work" citations of a local building inspector and his modern-day, pointless red tape. This leads to some serious legal trouble, which the film treats as just another chance for old Craig to pull himself up by the bootstraps. 

But even so, he's been around long enough to know the ways of the world, as infuriating as they can be. On more than one occasion, just before a scene ends, he puts a button on a lost-battle exchange by uttering, "If that's the way it's gotta be, then that's the way it is." 

Still Mine shamelessly plays the target audiences' presumed alienation about the world passing them by via Craig's pointless rules and bureaucracy. Naturally when (Cromwell) has been insulted by the government inspector he just tried to make nice with, a defiant audience-pleasing strapping on of the tool belt isn't far behind. His pride threatens everything, but only to a point.

There are enough honestly heart-rending moments in Still Mine to place it above such elder-baiting pap -- such as Unfinished Song, which is playing concurrently, courting the same audience -- a movie niche that's been increasing in popularity and production as more and more seasoned citizens increasingly settle into spending their time at the movies. But watching this, just as I begin to consider how our protagonist is aching in places where he used to play, we get a Mumford & Sons needle-drop (a halfway decent choice, if there had to have been a choice) over a sequence cut together like a 90's era WB Network program.

Everything about the film is much too maudlin and comfortable to ever truly let this guy's resistant streak do him in. Case in point, Still Mine spends a fair amount of time on this unresolved detail: When he was but a boy, Craig's father (a wise inspiration we hear about often) sent him into the Yankees dugout, yielding him a baseball autographed by both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Nowadays it's said to be worth $40,000, although he keeps it in a can hidden in a kitchen cupboard. 

At the end, I fully expected Craig to stroll outside and nonchalantly toss the ball to the precocious young boy who comes around every now and then. But to the film's credit, that doesn't happen. He looks at the baseball, and presumably puts it away, and the last the movie deals with this element. 

 In any other movie, the autographed baseball would amount to something. Here, it's just another curiosity in a lifetime of stored-up tales, trinkets and memories. The baseball is still his. As is Still Mine.

The film opens in limited release in select U.S. theaters on Friday, July 12. Visit the official Facebook page for more information.
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