Song for Marion (aka Unfinished Song) review: ode to joy

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Song for Marion Unfinished Song green light Vanessa Redgrave Terence Stamp

Powerfully poignant, a bumpy, bittersweet journey through grief and joy.
I’m “biast” (pro): a great cast always gives me hope

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Arthur is a grumpy old coot. His wife, Marion, is a vivacious, bubbly spirit who keeps him connected to the outside world. Alas, Marion is dying. Will Arthur become a recluse, cut himself completely off from the rest of humanity once she’s gone? Marion fears that he will… but perhaps Elizabeth, the director of the old-folks’ a capella choir Marion is a member of, can convince Arthur to join in the wacky fun of belting out rock tunes with a gang of other old coots, and maybe shed his grumpiness along the way as a bonus? If you think it all sounds rather familiar and predictable — mean old man learns the true meaning of Christmas! — think again. Writer-director Paul Andrew Williams ensures that his powerfully poignant tale — keep a box of Kleenex handy — does not take expected paths from early on, which quickly leaves you with a wonderfully unsteady sense that you simply don’t know where it’s all going to end up, and so getting there becomes a bumpy, bittersweet journey through grief and joy and pain that love can bring and the redemption of friendship. And the cast, my god this cast: Vanessa Redgrave (Anonymous) as Marion. Terence Stamp (The Adjustment Bureau) as Arthur. Any opportunity to see these two always-unmissable actors together must be grabbed. (Gemma Arterton [Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters] as Elizabeth and Christopher Eccleston [Amelia] as James, Marion and Arthur’s son, are excellent, too.) Williams is a quietly assured filmmaker who doesn’t avoid harsh reality — Marion is dying of cancer, and not prettily, like Teh Movies often pretend — but nor is he afraid to be unabashedly merry, as in every single scene in which the choir gets down with their charmingly bad selves. It makes for one of those all-around satisfying film experiences that seems to encapsulate the entire range of human emotion in an hour and a half.

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Tue, Jun 25, 2013 3:29pm

Seems like ages since I saw the trailer for this. Glad it’s more than the facile exercise that it appeared to be then.

Tue, Jun 25, 2013 3:53pm

i believe you that it is a good movie. my question is this: does the manic pixie girl carry over even into old age and death? obviously, it does. you never seen grumpy old woman carried along happily by her cheerful, bright eyed husband who is dying. you might see an old woman with dementia or alzheimers with a husband who is basically doing the best he can. i want the manic pixie boy who is the same his whole life.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  bronxbee
Tue, Jun 25, 2013 8:07pm

I can see how my description makes it sound like this is a MPDG movie, but it really isn’t. It’s way too down to earth and honest for that.

reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Wed, Jun 26, 2013 6:18pm

well, this line: ” Marion, is a vivacious, bubbly spirit who keeps him connected to the outside world.”

and i read another review that made me think that arthur was a lost soul until marion saved him. perhaps i judged too harshly.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  bronxbee
Wed, Jun 26, 2013 9:15pm

It’s more an only-just-slight exaggeration of the reality for many couples, especially older couples of a more conservative generation, in that the woman is the social manager for them both.

Tue, Jun 25, 2013 5:13pm

Good to see another positive review of this film. It’s now definitely on my list to see this summer.

Karl Morton IV
Karl Morton IV
Thu, Jun 27, 2013 10:11am

The singing interludes do not recall “Sister Act” at all, do they?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Karl Morton IV
Thu, Jun 27, 2013 10:28am

Not at all. It’s more like the documentary Young@Heart, which I reviewed here: