This low-budget, limited-release film was originally titled "The Boynton Beach Bereavement Club," but the DVD marketers wisely chose to shorten the title so that it seems more evocative of the old "Beach Blanket" films and less of a downer. You can even see the wheels inside the PR copywriters' heads turning and feel their body English as they reach and stretch to describe this film: "Join the good times at the 'Boynton Beach Club'--where the fun never sets!" and "Celebrate life, love, and finding happiness again in this heartwarming comedy that proves 60 is the new 40!"
Okay, but if you're expecting a traditional romantic comedy geared for geriatrics, you might be disappointed. For one thing, aside from moments you can count on both hands, "Boynton Beach Club" doesn't deliver all that many laughs. It also doesn't follow the typical structure (boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl) of a romantic comedy, nor does it incorporate nearly as many plot twists that complicate a romantic comedy and quicken the pacing, sometimes so much that we have to term them "screwball."
If anything, "Boynton Beach Club" comes closer to what we've seen on television--a more serious and protracted episode of "Golden Girls," or a seniors cruise version of "The Love Boat." Though there's no ship, the tone, pacing, background music, and interwoven stories are certainly evocative of that popular '70s show, and enough B-list and former A-list celebrities who were highly visible that decade climb the gangplank. Joseph Bologna, Dyan Cannon, Sally Kellerman, and Brenda Vaccaro are joined by Len Cariou and Michael Nouri in what turns out to be a slice-of-senior-life ensemble film set in the retirement community of Boynton Beach, Florida. Welcome to the world of water aerobics, sympathy casseroles, all-you-can-eat buffets, pinochle groups, senior dances, bereavement clubs, and grandchildren in the pool.
Much of "Boynton Beach Club" feels authentic, and we have a number of things to thank for that. Director Susan Seidelman's mother, Florence, who lives in Florida, knew plenty of seniors who were unexpectedly single after being with the same person for 40-50 years--sometimes, since high school. She was the one who got the idea for the film and submitted a rough script to her daughter, who restructured it and punched it up a bit with the help of Shelly Gitlow. And thanks to the low-budget nature of the film and the fact that it was so far from big cities with card-carrying SAG members, we get, as extras, real seniors from Boynton Beach where it was filmed. Some of them, we learn on the commentary, were even members of the real bereavement club.
The film opens promisingly enough, with an engaging character named Marty (a Florida comedian in real life named Mal Z. Lawrence) doing his morning exercise routine to the headphones' tune of "Mama Loves Mambo." It's not exactly power-walking that he does, nor is it dancing because he covers as much ground as the walkers, but the screen is filled with energy when he's on-camera. Then, in an early sequence, he's struck by a car driven by a woman yakking on her cell phone as she was backing out of her driveway. And he's killed. That sets the whole plot in motion as we meet his widow, Marilyn (Vaccaro), an overweight woman who suddenly has to learn how to pay the bills, how to drive, and how to do everything else that Marty did when he was alive. We're also introduced, via funeral, to Jack (Cariou), who is suddenly inundated with tuna casseroles and lasagnas and single elderly women who all want to make themselves available to him if he needs anyone to "talk to," which of course is code for "hook up with."
Without comparing the rough and shooting scripts it's impossible to tell where things began to go off-the-mark, but it seems that all the authenticity of senior life has the unfortunate counterweight of clichés that transcend the generations. But the biggest problem is that infernal background music and pacing that's so slow and leisurely it makes you feel like you've been standing in the wrong line at the supermarket-the one where the customers just have to talk about their grandchildren or aches and pains while blissfully unaware that the line behind them is growing. There's just not a strong narrative arc. Everything seems even-keeled, with no crises or sub-crises of any consequence to add variety. Even the relationships proceed without many obstacles and without any real complications except for a few lies followed quickly by acceptance.
Harry (Bologna) has decided to try Internet dating and lies his wrinkly ass off, not thinking (until his buddies remind him) that the woman he chats with might be doing the same. He says he's 65, not 70, and fudges a few other areas, saying he likes to take midnight walks on the beach. Excuse me, but what guy likes to do that? And what senior would unbolt the doors at that hour for a Western Union courier, much less a stroll into the dark unknown? His best come-on line, which is an amusing allusion to the limits that seniors often have placed on their licenses? "By the way, I can drive at night." One of the film's funny moments comes when he has to go into the bathroom of the attractive woman he meets and can't find a towel. He looks in the bathroom closet and sees a shrine to sex: a collection of brightly colored dildos of gigantic proportion, and a tough act to follow for any guy, regardless of age.
Sandy (Kellerman) meets Jack at a regional bereavement meeting and wants to keep seeing him. She's normal, she's patient, and Kellerman is brave enough to show her breasts briefly, in another of the film's funny but poignant moments--something "MASH" fans will recall happened in that film way back in 1970. And by the way, she still looks great, though her partial nudity is the only conceivable thing that would have earned this film an "R" rating, it's otherwise so tame.
Dyan Cannon plays Lois, the loose cannon among the seniors who dresses and acts like she's in her twenties and shakes her slender booty to attract a man whom she believes to be a real estate developer. In another example of a limp plot twist, the guy turns out to be the local pest control man instead, but once again the space between Lois's disappointment and acceptance is so slight that I've seen spark plugs with bigger gaps.
Then there's Marilyn, who's chosen to grieve and to learn how to live alone rather than seek another companion. We watch Lois try to teach her to drive, and see her as the practical, rock of a person who comes to terms with her loss and her new relationship with the family she has left (and the unwanted dog they bring her for companionship).
When you add up the sum of their stories, the total should be more than what we get from the parts, but I'm not sure that's the case. But if you liked "Golden Girls" and "The Love Boat," chances are you're going to like "Boynton Beach Club" as well.
"Boynton Beach Club" is mastered in High Definition and presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio on anamorphic widescreen. While there's a slight graininess that's noticeable in the background of some exterior and soft-focus shots, the overall quality is pretty good. The colors seem to be slightly washed-out in some scenes, but for the most part there's decent saturation.
The sound, too, is comparably decent, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track with English (CC) subtitles that makes the dialogue sound natural and doesn't increase disproportionately in volume when the seniors are at a dance and we hear music that comes out of all the speakers.
The only extra is a director's commentary in which Seidelman covers the usual ground. I don't know about the rest of you, but I personally find the commentaries from low-budget or independent films to be more interesting than the big-budget talk-throughs. That's the case here, too, as we get a degree of honesty and revelations of how things came together in kismet fashion that make filmmaking sound like a fairy tale.
It's not a traditional romantic comedy and it's not a downer. "Boynton Beach Club" is somewhere in the middle: a seriocomic ensemble film that shows a period in seniors' lives where they try to get back on that horse again . . . while they still can. Parts of it are familiar and clichéd, but those parts that are authentic make it worth watching, especially since there are so few films that deal with the fact that seniors are still sexual beings.