Documentary Review: Married artists face their twilight, “So Late So Soon”

The end, when it comes, is never pretty. But can it be a thing of beauty?

That’s an unspoken premise of “So Late So Soon,” a portrait of two kind of cute/kind of quarrelsome Chicago artists as they close in on 80 and the big Final Act decisions that face everyone lucky enough to reach that age.

Jackie and Don Seiden were, for decades, mainstays of Chicago’s art scene, if never exactly household names. A couple of 1980s TV interviews capture them at their creative peaks — her, a roller-dancing mixed-media artist specializing in “decaying media,” him a welder and papier mache sculptor and sketch artist.

What they’re most famous for is teaching; at local schools, at the Art Institute of Chicago, in art therapy classes. But what “So Late So Soon” captures is lives lived artistically and a fifty year-plus marriage tested by the trials of old age.

Filmmaker Daniel Hymanson visits them in in their worn, dated and somewhat cluttered apartment, where the highly-strung chatterbox Jackie shrieks at this or that, and celebrates a mouse “turd” she finds in their cabinetry. Nothing for it but to set traps, and shriek as she sets them off by accident.

Don reacts to most every Jackie outburst. Just not right away. He might walk into the kitchen and see her stringing up dental floss between cabinets, suspending toy animals (a plastic cow) as she does, cursing mildly when she runs out of floss and needs Don to hold things in place until she returns from the bathroom.

She kvetches as she services their ancient toilet. “We’re gonna have to MOVE.” That seems like a conclusion she might be coming to.

“Being old, being elderly, is like a dirty trick,” she complains — 78 and still dancing as if no one is watching.

“I’m not making any more furniture or painting any more walls,” he gripes. So nertz to your idea of “moving,” missy.

We hear her aches and pains, witness his panic attack and find him in a hospital doing physical therapy.

In tiny dollops, we hear about their past, how their sisters were best friends from childhood, how they “got along” and were sort of thrown together, how he choked when questioned by the justice of the peace who married them, and how she never let him forget that.

Yes, we see them fight, with Jackie donning ear muffs to shut him out, Don pleading “How can we fix this?” and the viewer never doubting for a second that they will, nor that they’ll decide that being together is more important than living on “some place where we’re not together.”

In just 70 minutes, Hymanson has shown us what “soul mates” look like, and leveled with us about the best possible outcome for our final years, months and days. Not bad.

Rating: unrated, mild profanity

Cast: Jackie Seiden, Don Seiden

Credits: Directed by Daniel Hymanson. An Oscilloscope Labs release.

Running time: 1:12

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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