Lovely, Still (2008) – Review

Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn star in this affecting tale of first love.

Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn star in this affecting tale of first love. (Spoilers may follow…)

‘There’s no chance to fail if you don’t give up’. At least that’s the message preached by Lovely, Still and it manages to do so convincingly. Shop assistant Robert (Landau), now an old man, is confronted by a home invasion when he returns home from work one evening. The burglar? An inoffensive and warm nextdoor neighbour, Mary (Burstyn). After the initial shock, Robert finds himself enamoured by the mysterious woman. Thankfully she takes the initiative and, very forwardly, asks him on a date. This sets the tone for the relationship that flourishes.

In Lovely, Still director Nicholas Fackler creates a story that, whilst celebrating love, isn’t afraid to embrace despair. The imposingly simplistic soundtrack, whilst suggesting Robert’s innocence, also points toward more sinister connotations. Although the ending may be rather predictable for some, it is the journey toward the denouement that is the film’s strong point.

The cutesy relationship that forms between Robert and Mary is reminiscent of young love and, with Christmas fast approaching, it gains romantic speed. Robert is spurred on by his over-enthusiastic store manager Mike (Adam Scott) and the advice and tactics offered to Robert provide the film with some of its more humorous moments. Robert and Mary visibly delight in spending time together but all the while the audience gets the feeling that Mary isn’t telling Robert, or us for that matter, everything and, when she urges that they ‘just care about right now’, we know that something’s amiss.

The more Lovely, Still unravels the more uncomfortable Robert’s situation becomes. Who exactly is this Mary? Where are all of Robert’s photos? …and what exactly is it that he dreams of? It is after, during their Christmas morning spent together, Mary stumbles across Robert’s present to himself that the explanation is cemented. Robert’s daily routine becomes sinisterly imposing and, when Mary apparently begins to ignore his calls, his problems start to reveal themselves, unveiling the reasons behind the underlying sense of unease about their relationship – an unease that is intensified by Elizabeth Bank’s character.

Much of the film points toward its ending (the bond between Robert and Mike, Robert’s trip to Mary’s Christmas party) but Lovely, Still is absorbing nonetheless. Steadily tugging on the heartstrings, its story is heartbreakingly sad and sheds important light on a debilitating illness. Turning from a tale of happiness and first love to an affecting story of loss, Lovely, Still is a more reserved descendent of the brilliant The Notebook.

Best performance: Mary.
Best line: ‘There’s no chance to fail if you don’t give up’.

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