Netflix’s ongoing outreach movie audiences the theatrical release studios have abandoned includes making movies for filmgoers who by and large just don’t go to the movies any more.
Thus, “Our Souls at Night,” a reunion of 80something former “Barefoot in the Park” and “Electric Horsemen” co-stars Jane Fonda and Robert Redford.
A tale of two long-widowed neighbors in sleepy tiny Holt, Colorado, it is stately, quiet and elegiac, all respect-your-elders politesse for “Pleasantly dull.”
It begins with a drop-in, and “a proposal…not marriage,” from Addie, who lives down the street but doesn’t really know Louis all that well.
“Would you be interested in coming to my house sometime and sleeping with me?”
She adds a sentence that each of them will repeat, ad nauseam, over the next 100 minutes.
“It’s not what you think.”
One of the hellish adjustments of old age is loneliness. Your kids move away, your spouse dies, along with almost all of your friends. The elderly face a shrinking world of limited mobility, shrunken horizons and little human contact.
“Nights are the worst, don’t you think?”
Louis, a man of few words, has to “think about it.” But when he consents with the hope of lying awake and just having somebody to talk to, he is disappointed. At first. Addie literally cannot get enough sleep alone. So having company lets her catch up.
But as these sleepovers go on, they unburden themselves the way people do in fiction and the movies (it’s based on a Kent Haruf novel). She always thought he was “a good man,” he saw her as “a person of substance and character.”
Of course there’s a lot more to each of them than that — past flaws that these nightly confessions reveal. Present flaws include a reluctance to take this arrangement public. She wouldn’t mind, he prefers being her “back door man.”
“You know how people talk.”
Chief among those talkers is Dorlan, head gabber at the coffee-klatsch Louis drops in on at the cafe. Bruce Dern plays Dorlan, and he makes you think of “Nebraska” and much more realistic and honest a depiction of old age, family, dignity and indignities that was.
I started thinking of how much more spirited, colorful and interesting Louis would have been had Dern played him.
“Our Souls at Night” may accurately show flawed people still fretting over the past, still worrying about their adult kids (Judy Greer for him, Matthias Schoenaerts for her). A grandson is taken in and charmed into a more engaged and interesting kid by the close attention of his elders. He’s played by Iain Armitage of TV’s “Young Sheldon.”
The kid hijacks the story and turns the movie into something else, at least for a while. The “confessions” play into that, and a kind of abrupt disapproval leaps forth from one adult child, and perfunctory, ancient-history guilt trips are administered by both.
A more common gripe for me of films like this is their disconnection from the reality of old age in America. I might buy that a retired school teacher and widowed housewife might set a table for one for dinner, listen to jazz and lead their twilight years in quiet contemplation — in a European movie.
In America? The TV would be on, tuned to endless “Blue Bloods” marathons. And that’s where meals are taken, in front of the tube. Things around the house, like the folks who own them, start to go — grooming, housekeeping, attire and weight give this away.
Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” nailed all that.
Never for one second do we buy into these two good-looking, well-preserved, trim and exercised outliers as anybody we’ve run across in rural America.
There’s nothing inherently wrong in making a romance novel fantasy about two unexceptional people played as ordinarily extraordinary by a couple of the prettiest movie stars ever to come down the pike.
But the stars, decades of warm feelings generated by their respective screen roles, reach for the mundane by underplaying, and that they do gingerly, because even the perfectly-preserved drop down into their lower gears past 75. And what little happens here feels humorless, predigested or at least sterilized for our protection.
MPAA Rating: TV-14, adult situations
Cast: Robert Redford, Jane Fonda, Iain Armitage, Judy Greer, Matthias Schoenarts and Bruce Dern
Running time: 1:43