Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V -0; L -1; S/N -4. Running time: 1 hour 42 min.
Then he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.
A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
We have been in a golden age the past couple of years for films that treat the elderly with respect and dignity, rather than regarding them as cute or funny incompetent supporting characters. Canadian writer/director Michael McGowan’s wonderful film based on a true story about a couple in their eighties still very much deeply in love up against a bureaucratic system is both funny at times, and greatly moving at all times.
We are treated to two great stars still at the top of their form, Genevieve Bujold and James Cromwell as a New Brunswick (Canada) couple, the former fighting his way through a maze of housing code rules in order to build a new one-level home for his wife suffering increasingly from memory loss due to dementia.
Craig and Irene Morrison (Cromwell and Bujold) have lived in the small seaport St. Martins all their lives. Son of a skilled boat builder who passed on his carpentry skills, Craig has had to resort to farming when fishing declined. Now he is faced with changes that threaten this, such as the turndown of his strawberries because the distributor now insists that they will buy only from farmers who bring them in a refrigerated truck. He and Irene decide to give them away. Also their cows have broken through their dilapidated fence, so Craig decides to dispense with the herd. Most troubling, however, is Irene’s memory loss and resulting confusion, plus her inability to negotiate the stairs of their rickety two-story house (she falls and injures herself). The two of their seven children who live close by want to place their mother in a nursing home, but both parents energetically reject that. Craig decides to mill lumber from their trees and build a small wheel chair accessible house with a grand view of the bay.
Heeding the advice of such friends as Chester Jones (George R. Robertson), Craig reluctantly goes to town to seek a building permit—and runs up against the rule-obsessed building inspector, Rick Daigle (Jonathan Potts). The old man is shocked when Daigle tells him he will have to pay $400 for a permit, but does so, and then is further upset to learn that he will have to submit a plan that includes blueprints. He has it all worked out in his head, but Daigle says that will not do, thus requiring hundreds of more dollars. The inspector even objects to Craig’s lumber, despite its obvious quality, because it is “unstamped.” Objections pile up, leading to a stop work order, and eventually to the courtroom scene, with which the film begins.
Interspersed are numerous tender scenes revealing the love that says that sixty-one years of marriage each feels the other is “still mine”? We learn that there was a rocky period when Craig had a brief affair, but time and Irene’s love have healed that wound. Despite the burden of dealing with Irene’s dementia, which causes her at times angrily to resist his help, Craig sticks to his determination to provide her last years with a snug home with a lovely view of their beloved bay—and to his intent to risk jail if necessary in the face of the rule-worshipping Daigle. There is an enjoyable moment when Craig’s cause comes to the attention of a journalist, who was put onto the story by a person that will surprise you.
Especially touching is the scene in which Craig speaks of a table that he had designed and built from fine wood that he had harvested. Around it all his family had gathered and shared their meals through the years. At first he was resentful of scratches caused by carelessness. He had worked to smooth them over, but some were too deep to eradicate. Now, however, he regards the imperfections as part of the beauty of the table, a reminder of what the family had been through together.
Although Craig insists on building the house without any help, he learns gradually the importance of the support in his battle with the rules and the rule enforcer. His son and daughter come around to his way of thinking, his lawyer Gary (Campbell Scott) stands by him in court (without submitting a bill, Craig observes), and a neighbor, without telling him had contacted the journalist. By way of warning to some of you, the rating is due to a brief shower scene in which the elderly wife and husband are nude. Reportedly Ms. Bujold at first did not want to do this, but seeing how it helped reveal the tenderness and love that the couple shared through their long marriage, was happy that it was included. This is a not to be missed film that shows that, as in Christ’s time, the rules-obsessed are still with us. But so are determination, a full measure of love and grace, and the eventual admiration that the world eventually bestows upon those sticking by those qualities. Be sure to bring a handkerchief: the tears are not cheaply evoked.
The full review with a set of 9 questions for reflection or discussion appears in the Sep/Oct issue of Visual Parables, which will be available on Sep. 23 when VP’s new site is launched.