Film & Television

Finding Your Feet:
Stupendous Cast Dances Through Retiree Rom-Com

All that unpleasantness of 1776 aside, there are things that the British simply do better than we do. High tea, for example. Department store food courts. Pomp and circumstance.

And romantic comedies with old people.

In recent years, the U.S. has put out quite a few movies that feature love in later life. (Oscar-winner Diane Keaton has practically built a second career around them.) But, as much as I applaud the concept of an older leading lady and romance after middle age, these films often make me cringe. In And So It Goes and Something’s Gotta Give (both with Keaton), or Hope Springs and It’s Complicated (both with Meryl Streep), too much of the humor is derived from the idea of an older woman wanting and/or having sex. Even when the film is terrific (and some of them are), it feels disrespectful and certainly reinforces how youth-obsessed Hollywood can be. As younger audiences chuckle over the heroine’s self-consciousness, I’m tempted to remind them that they won’t be millennials forever. Gravity will eventually get them too.

Now, compare these Yankee titles to their most popular Brit counterpart. In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the ex-pats at the eponymous hotel represent a variety of different types of couplings: new love, loveless marriage, recreational sex, and husband hunting. But despite some humor and funny business, none of it is at the expense of an older woman’s feeling frisky.

Finding Your Feet, directed by Richard Loncraine and written by Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft, is destined to be compared — unfavorably, I’m afraid — with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (mashed up, perhaps with television’s So You Think You Can Dance). It’s not as nuanced or well-written; it’s much more predictable. But, with a phenomenal cast giving their all, it’s fairly easy to ignore the completely formulaic story, sit back, and enjoy.

Finding Your Feet begins with Lady Sandra Abbott throwing an elegant retirement party for her newly knighted husband, Mike, in their posh suburban mansion. All is going as planned — until Sandra walks in on said husband making out with her best friend. She throws a rather entertaining and public fit, packs her designer bags, and heads into London and the council estate flat (that’s “subsidized housing” for us American viewers) of her free-spirited sister Bif.

Bif and Sandra are polar opposites; they haven’t seen each other in 10 years. But Bif welcomes Sandra into her less conventional life, and after some initial resistance (and a night in jail after attacking a Chinese waiter with a dumpling), Sandra begins to loosen up. Among Bif’s motley crew of friends is Charlie, a furniture restorer who drives a ramshackle van and lives on a houseboat. Sandra finds him boorish; he thinks she’s a snob.

It’s hatred at first sight, and if that doesn’t guarantee a happy ending, I don’t know what does.

There are obstacles and adventures, mostly expected but pleasant, to follow. Sandra, Bif, and company become a viral sensation when their senior dance class stages a flash mob for charity. They’re invited to a dance competition in Rome, where they make the most of food, drink, and moonlit walks. (And their exuberant dance performance, although it wouldn’t exactly win a prize, is a highlight of the film.) There are sad reminders of mortality (three different characters pass before the movie’s over), but the message is clear: “Carpe diem!” Or, as Bif explains on an early morning swim in a frigid Hampstead pond, “It’s one thing being scared of dying, Sandra. It’s a whole other thing being scared of living.”

The marvelous cast is certainly living it up. Sandra is portrayed by the irrepressible Imelda Staunton (Oscar-nominee for Vera Drake and better known lately as Hogwarts’s sinister headmistress and half-blood witch Dolores Umbridge). Staunton began her career in musical theater (winning Olivier Awards, the U.K.’s equivalent to Tony Awards, for Gypsy, Into the Woods, and Sweeney Todd), and she’s clearly having the time of her life dancing with her fellow pensioners here. Larger than life when called for, but also legitimately distressed by life’s unexpected turns, she makes Sandra sympathetic.

Celia Imrie (memorable in both Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Calendar Girls) plays Elizabeth (or “Bif,” thanks to baby sis Sandra’s difficulty pronouncing the longer name). She’s delightful here, living every moment with a purpose — even when the purpose is simply to smoke some weed and have some fun. Dressed in gypsy fabrics with a splash of color in her short hair, she’s a nice contrast to her stuffy sister. And her striptease after a promising date is the exact opposite of what I complained about earlier. She’s having way too much fun (and looking forward to even more) to worry that she’s not a 20-something model.

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