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.)
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.