Elsa & Fred
Elsa (Shirley MacLaine) lives in
an apartment building in
, where Fred (Christopher Plummer) has just recently moved next
Fred’s not a happy guy.
His wife died seven months ago, but he claims he
doesn’t miss her all that much; they fought all the time.
Though his well-meaning daughter
(Marcia Gay Harden) insisted that he be moved into a small
apartment and have a caretaker/housekeeper, Laverne (Erika Alexander), Fred
resents the implication that he can’t take care of himself.
Though he really doesn’t intend to do his own
cooking or cleaning.
In fact, Fred pretty much intends
to do nothing. Or
at least, as little as possible.
Because nobody can tell him what to do.
Despite well-meaning suggestions from his
daughter, his friend John (George Segal) and Laverne, he doesn’t want to go
walk in the park. He
doesn’t want to get out and do anything.
Sitting in front of the television is just fine.
Or just lying in the bed.
After all, every day is just so-so, right?
Nothing very extraordinary happens.
What’s there to get all excited about?
Elsa has noticed Fred’s
presence, of course, and wants to find some way to get a conversation going,
but doesn’t expect him to bang at her door yelling for help.
It seems the water from the sink is spraying all
over the place, he’s soaking wet, and doesn’t seem to know anything about
the cut-off valve below the sink.
She helps him, but laughs her way through it, and
though Fred doesn’t particularly enjoy her making light of the situation,
still, there was something infectious about her laugh….
We all know what’s going to
happen next. Fred
and Elsa start seeing each other, and Fred comes out of his shell.
He starts getting interested in getting out of
bed and getting dressed and going out for a walk (with Elsa).
They have dinner together.
They are obviously enjoying each other’s
could go wrong?
Ah, but Elsa is a whirlwind, who
has a tendency to embellish things, even make up things, because they’re
more interesting than reality.
That makes Fred wonder if anything she tells him
is true. He’s
already caught her in a couple of lies about her family relationships:
actually, her ex-husband isn’t dead, he’s
just dead to her. And
actually, she has two sons, it’s just that she sees the younger one, the
artist, secretly, to hand him money, which infuriates the older one, but then,
he’s angry most of the time, anyway.
Elsa doesn’t have time to be angry. She’ll
run away from a fender-bender, or a restaurant bill.
She’s on dialysis, but of course tries to keep
that a secret from Fred.
Why worry about that stuff?
Why not just enjoy ourselves?
It’s unusual to see people “of
this age” in bed together in the movies, but don’t worry, they keep their
pajamas on. It’s
just that their cuddling and affection obviously means so much to them, so why
should their kids be so concerned?
Well, maybe because Fred takes the money
he’d promised his daughter for some cockeyed business venture, and instead
spends it lavishly on Elsa, to fulfill her lifelong dream of imitating Anita
Ekberg in “La Dolce Vita,” and wading in the Fontana de Trevi in Rome,
with a black evening gown and a white cat, and Fred does his best to make her
fantasy come true because he has such a good time watching her enjoy her
fantasy coming true.
Can octogenarians be trusted to
act rationally in relationships?
Should people who have been responsible all their
lives indulge in something a little reckless at the end?
Well, that’s “La Dolce Vita,” isn’t it?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Parish
Associate, Woodhaven Presbyterian Church,