- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2006

Think the winsome singles played on screen lately by Sarah Jessica Parker, Diane Lane or Matthew McConaughey have a rough go of it meeting their soul mates? Just consider the over-50 crowd. Films rarely touch upon seasoned citizens in the dating pool, let alone golden oldies looking for a little geri-action.

Hollywood crunches the demographic numbers showing that teens buy more tickets than baby boomers, and programs accordingly.

A boomer may occupy the White House, but in cinema these babies are mere afterthoughts.

Two new films — one American, one French — shine a rare light on love later in life.

“The Boynton Beach Club” follows a group of bereaved seniors trying to reconnect after being thrust back into the dating scene. It’s a comic lark laced with grief, but it’s still a featherweight compared to “Heading South.”

The French import tracks a group of older women who travel to Haiti to meet, and purchase dalliances with, the country’s handsome young males. The former’s singles haven’t given up on love no matter how much their skin has sagged, while the latter believe their own cultures have betrayed them and seek comfort in the arms of innocents.

The films differ in tone and execution, but similarities remain. “Boynton” can’t figure out what to do with its characters in the final reel, while the women of “South” show nary a flicker of growth in the end.

Audience interest in both is likely to be tepid.

Indies have grown in clout in recent years, but marketing them to the masses remains a David versus Goliath affair. Still, a Tuesday night screening of “Boynton” packed a Bethesda theater, even if moviegoers gasped at the sight of familiar actors decades past their commercial prime.

“Boynton” lets Brenda Vaccaro (“Midnight Cowboy”), Joseph Bologna (“My Favorite Year”) and Dyan Cannon (“Heaven Can Wait”) reclaim the screen without sacrificing their sexuality. Harry (Mr. Bologna) is a grieving widower who connects with his peers at a Florida bereavement club. He works the group like a singles bar and dabbles in Internet dating. Marilyn (Miss Vaccaro) is stunned by the sudden loss of her husband but finds a friend in Lois (Miss Cannon), the bereavement club’s hottie. That Miss Cannon can still fill the role is a testament to good genes, better plastic surgery or a tango of the two.

Lois falls hard for a relatively young real estate developer (Michael Nouri), while club newcomer Jack (Len Cariou) stumbles into a romance of his own (with “M*A*S*H*’s” Sally Kellerman).

Director Susan Seidelman, working from a script co-written by her mother, Florence Seidelman, treats her subjects with respect for the inevitable challenges of aging. The obligatory Viagra jokes can’t be avoided, but otherwise the Seidelmans draw humor from the characters and their exasperation with dating decades after their first go around.

The mother and daughter team ultimately let their creations down. The final third of “Boynton” plays out with sitcom silliness. Plot contrivances and jerry-rigged reunions stall whatever momentum had been gained to that point.

These characters, so richly drawn and lovable, deserve better.

The same can’t be said for the cynical ladies in “Heading South.”

Director Laurent Cantet sets his story in 1970s Haiti, where the country’s gorgeous beaches draw American tourists seeking an escape from their mundane lives.

Brenda (Karen Young) visited the country a few years earlier with her husband, only to fall for a 15-year-old native named Legba (Menothy Cesar). Now she’s back and eager to rekindle the flames that apparently scorched her marriage.

Older, wiser Legba has kept busy since Brenda’s last visit. He’s become one of many young men who entertain visitors for a price. He’s currently in the employ of Ellen (Charlotte Rampling), a highly educated Boston professor who oversees the gaggle of American women looking for a slice of paradise in the troubled country.

At first the women coexist peacefully, even though both are fixated on Legba. But the young Haitian is being pulled in more than two directions, and trouble arises when Brenda and Ellen start tugging harder in response.

“Heading South” has far more on its mind than just hedonistic escape. The women here have given up on finding genuine companionship. Women of a certain age, they learned the hard way, can’t expect to be treated as equals back home. They revel in the simplicity of life with the Legbas of the world, who overlook their lumpy bodies and woo them like teens.

Still, exploitation is exploitation, and both sides of the sexual equation are using the other. A haunting prologue reminds us of Haiti’s societal woes — Mr. Cantet lets Haiti’s political strife simmer in the background from then on, and his restraint is masterful.

Both “Boynton Beach Club” and “Heading South” explore characters too often ignored by filmmakers, and each uncovers enough humor and pathos to reward audiences willing to consider experience over beauty.


TITLE: “Boynton Beach Club”

RATING: NR (Mature situations, brief nudity and adult language)

CREDITS: Directed by Susan Seidelman and written by Florence Seidelman and David Cramer.

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

WEB SITE: www.boyntonbeachclubthemovie.comcq



TITLE: “Heading South”

RATING: NR (Sexual situations, nudity and disturbing images)

CREDITS: Directed by Laurent Cantet and written by Mr. Cantet and Robin Campillo; based on short stories by Dany Laferriere. French with English subtitles

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

WEB SITE: www.shadowdistribution.com/headingsouth


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