Vanessa Redgrave-Unfinished Song
Photo by Nick Wall - © 2013 The Weinstein Company.

I found this film extremely frustrating; on the one hand it treats its senior-citizen characters as “cute” and then delivers moments of genuine pathos that cause you to tear up.

I’m a fairly easy mark for cheap sentiment, but Unfinished Song put me to the test by repeatedly switching gears. Writer-director Paul Andrew Williams’ most inspired idea was casting Vanessa Redgrave in the key role of Marion—a loving wife and mother who refuses to allow cancer to dim her spirit. She finds joy and purpose singing in a choir at her local community center, led by a lively young schoolteacher (Gemma Arterton). Her taciturn husband (Terence Stamp) resents the group’s relentless optimism. He doesn’t mind taking Marion to and from her sessions but refuses to even step inside; he’s miserable at the thought of losing her and can’t be jollied out of his mordant mood.

It should come as no surprise that Redgrave is luminous; she refuses to surrender to mawkishness in her portrayal of a dying woman. The highlight of the movie, which I won’t spoil by describing in detail, features her solo rendition of a moving song. (Elsewhere, Arterton’s character finds delight in having her aged choristers sing such incongruous numbers as “Love Shack” and “Let’s Talk About Sex.” I’m not kidding.)

Gemma Arterton-Terence Stamp-485
Photo by Nick Wall - © 2013 The Weinstein Company.

Ultimately, the story centers on Stamp’s need to come out of his shell and make peace with his grown son (Christopher Eccleston), whom he’s always kept at arm’s length. Inevitably, spunky Arterton has a lot to do with softening his dim worldview.

I can’t fault the actors or their performances. Arterton is adorable, and Stamp does his best with a character whose evolution isn’t always credible. But it’s Vanessa Redgrave who validates Unfinished Song. Too bad the film as a whole isn’t as honest and moving as she is.