Few directors out there put as much effort into constructing an emotionally charged yet wistfully breezy string of scenes for the entirety of the film as consistently as Ritesh Batra. There is something about the lightness of his touch which creates the absolute right tonal balance to stop a potentially manipulative melodrama from failing.
His new film Our Souls at Night is yet another one in his resume that can only be described as ‘cute’. It’s also the kind of lazy, feel good Sunday afternoon viewing material on Netflix that the streaming platform was built for.
Yesteryear legends Robert Redford and Jane Fonda have a fun reunion here as neighbors in a small American town. Redford is Louis, a lonely old man living alone in his home, who is content to spend evenings at the bar with his fellow senior citizen friends. Fonda is Addie, another senior citizen with an even more subdued lifestyle.
Addie comes over to Louis’ house one day with a proposal to hang out together, and maybe even spend a night or two together. Louis is taken aback but ultimately accepts and the film is essentially a lighthearted chronicle of his relationship with Addie, a sprightly new element in an increasingly dull life.
The fun thing about the film is how it addresses small town problems in a cutesy manner. Louis hesitates to enter Addie’s home through the front door – he prefers the back door since people would look at them and gossip. Those who do discover their relationship compliment Louis on his ‘energy’, much to his chagrin as the two are literally sleeping next to each other for company and not really for sexual purposes. The overload of cuteness could get wearisome after a point but there is no denying Batra’s craft in assembling a snugly comforting movie.
On the downside, the depiction of the small American town in the film is wonderful almost to a fault – it’s like an ideal fairyland with constantly twee sunlight, caring people and a loving community – almost surreal considering what America is currently going through. I didn’t spot a single black person or poverty in the whole movie which is not inherently a negative aspect but just a curious one considering how every other American film looks nowadays. Perhaps it is a testament to how gritty and cynical Hollywood has become over the years to showcase the ugliness of the continent and its people to audiences.
And with the overflowing chemistry between Redford and Fonda it is difficult to not be swayed by the collective charm of the two screen legends.
The script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber (500 Days of Summer) is just way too convenient and feel good to feel real. In a third world country, where people die after a stampede at a railway station and the government takes no responsibility, such problems in the first world as depicted in the movie may not make you care. But maybe everyone in America (and in fact the whole world) needs some good news, a ray of hope in these increasingly pessimistic times.
Perhaps escapist entertainment about cute people with cute problems is a worthy distraction, and one wishes senior citizens everywhere in the world had issues that the two leads in this movie do. Whatever the case, this film will ultimately make you wish Batra returned to make a film in India. It has been four years since The Lunchbox and both the industry and film geeks need a dose of good, sensitive filmmaking.