CAPSULE: There is room for a simple, feel-good story in the holiday season and HOW ABOUT YOU fills the bill nicely. This Irish film has a ne'er-do-well misfit left in charge of a residence home over Christmas with four cantankerous oldsters. A good ensemble cast brings this adaptation of a Maeve Binchy short story to its amiable if predictable end. Anthony Byrne directs a delightful Irish comedy-drama that takes a bittersweet look at aging and dying. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Ellie (played by Hayley Atwell) has made a bit of a mess-up of her personal and professional life. She is now trying to lend a reluctant helping hand to her equally reluctant sister Kate (Orla Brady). Kate runs The Woodlands, a residence home for the elderly. It is going about as well as anything ever goes for Ellie. A collection of difficult residents seems to dislike Ellie just about as much as she hates them. This hostile, belligerent, group, dubbed "the Hardcore", includes once-popular actress (Vanessa Redgrave), a retired High Court judge (Joss Ackland), and two sisters (Imelda Staunton and Brenda Fricker). Ellie forms one friendship, not with one of the hardcore but with cancer-plagued Alice (Joan O'Hara), who is the one positive resident. Each has been something of a free spirit and Ellie would like to give Alice some hashish to ease her pain.
When Kate must go away on family business she is forced to leave Ellie illegally running The Woodlands with its four hardcore cases over the December holidays. After a shaky start the five people who cannot get along with each other prove they might have an unexpected chemistry.
In other hands this story could have been cloying, but the veteran cast gives a strong performance. Director Anthony Byrne has a really good cast to work with and they give him really engaging performances. One probably could not find a better set of actors for this story than Redgrave, Ackland, Staunton, and Fricker. Perhaps they change a little too quickly in Jean Pasley's script (which rather than a hundred minutes could have been two hours without overstaying its welcome), but they bring real humanity to their characters. And they are characters rather than caricatures. They seem childlike in both the better and worse senses of that word. Joss Ackland is particularly enjoyable in the one major male role in the film. Ackland is one of the great solid British actors, rarely a lead, but a very strong supporting actor.
A little gimmicky in the writing are the repeated placements of either the song or its title in the script. Since thematically the song seems to have little to do with the storyline, its use is a bit excessive.
The story is reminiscent of other films including a good dose of Henry Cass's THE LAST HOLIDAY (1950) and more recent films on the subject of eldercare like THE SAVAGES and AWAY FROM HER.
The films stands as a reminder for the holiday season that good acting can transform a simple story into a moving experience with a broad range of emotions. I would rate HOW ABOUT YOU a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. After you see the film, just try to get the song "How About You" out of your head. The film is dedicated to Joan O'Hara who played the likable dying Alice and who herself died not long after the film completed.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0887745/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2008 Mark R. Leeper