Pretty Old (2013)
Editor’s Note: Pretty Old is now available on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, Direct TV, PlayStation, Xbox Video, VUDU, and YouTube Movies. For more information visit the official site
There’s a tendency, in this terribly self-aware society of ours, to find flaw in the inherent objectification of pageantry, as though it isn’t the celebratory other side of the coin to the instant judgement rife in life anyway. One need only see for a second the smiling subjects of Pretty Old, participants in the thirtieth annual Ms. Senior Sweetheart pageant, to know it’s not all bad. It’s less because of the cute content of Walter Matteson’s documentary that it’s so delightful than in spite of it: where others might be content to rest on the niche subject’s novel laurels, Matteson dares to delve deeper, to peer behind the curtain’s velvet frills and get to the heart of the feelings at hand.
It’s less because of the cute content of Walter Matteson’s documentary that it’s so delightful than in spite of it: where others might be content to rest on the niche subject’s novel laurels, Matteson dares to delve deeper…
“You want to see me play the kazoo?” shouts Lenny Kaplan, founder and MC of the pageant, with such sudden enthusiasm the camera seems almost to pan in shock. Near everyone in Pretty Old is just that, and much as the movie might dote on these weird whims of age, it’s the consistent respect for its subjects as more than mere withered curios that makes it something special. Kaplan’s kazoo gag, sprung upon us some half dozen times across the film’s running time, is just one aspect of this aged abandon; another is the fearless frankness of the contestants in considering their lives from a point close to their likely ends.
Balancing both sides of the scenario is the great achievement of Matteson’s work here; it’s a movie akin to last year’s Ping Pong, which similarly undercut the surface sentiment of unlikely old-age achievement to funny, profoundly moving effect. So often it’s both in the same sentence. “Married lovers, that’s what we were,” one contestant contemplates as she recalls her late husband, shortly after lamenting the seven years sans sex his Alzheimer’s made for. Her sly smile speaks as much of delight in describing a sex drive all-too underrepresented on camera as it does of the sadness of loss. So it is with the film at large, which inherits its interviewees approach to life; their joie de vivre is its, and through it ours.
Balancing both sides of the scenario is the great achievement of Matteson’s work here; it’s a movie akin to last year’s Ping Pong, which similarly undercut the surface sentiment of unlikely old-age achievement to funny, profoundly moving effect.
And what joie, what vivre! “We only ask that they be 58 years of age and alive,” Kaplan says at the start; even the losers emerge from the pageant much more so. But it’s less the novelty of seeing the aged given meaning that makes the movie so affecting—none of the subjects want for it—than the sight of them appreciating their own. Balance between the fantasy of pageantry and the reality of life is the film’s essence, and it’s never better than in the case of Frances, the youngest contestant we follow and the one—by way of a late-stage ovarian cancer diagnosis—through whom the obvious issue of mortality is most directly expressed. There’s a stirring sensitivity to the handling of her story, one near tailor-made for awkward ennobling, that’s emblematic of Pretty Old’s refusal to roll out rote sentiment.
To do so within a framework so seemingly superficial is a wonder, a coup indicative of the complexity of this scenario, these subjects, and the issues of aging they so endearingly embody. The film’s strengths it takes from them, channelling the collective grace of their spirit with a levity every bit as loaded as theirs. It’s also, much like them, not without its flaws, be they structural or sonic, but so sure in itself all the same it’s hard to begrudge it. A misplaced microphone, after all, doesn’t make the words any less moving. Pretty Old is as dependently touching as it is determinedly tough, a realist portrait of a romanticised world. If pageantry doesn’t do beauty justice, here is a fine effort in its stead, a film as worthy of attention as the women it admires.
[notification type=”star”]66/100 ~ OKAY. Pretty Old is as dependently touching as it is determinedly tough, a realist portrait of a romanticised world. [/notification]