How About You

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Palm Springs International Film Festival

PALM SPRINGS -- Four curmudgeonly residents of a retirement home learn lessons in kindness in this by-the-numbers audience-pleaser. Because the actors playing the quarrelsome quartet are Vanessa Redgrave, Imelda Staunton, Brenda Fricker and Joss Ackland, stateside distribution is a strong possibility for "How About You."

The narrative trajectory is apparent within the opening minutes of the Irish feature, but director Anthony Byrne orchestrates the predictable proceedings with a minimum of fuss. Bearing shades of "Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont" but less delicacy, the comic drama could find a welcoming reception from older audiences seeking unchallenging fare.

The title refers to the Burton Lane/Ralph Freed standard "(I Like New York in Spring) How About You?" -- a fave of former chorus girl Georgia (Redgrave), a Brit with a predilection for turbans and martinis. She's one of the surly core group at Woodlane retirement home, an antique-bedecked mansion by a gurgling river. They don't like one another, but the collective antagonisms of Georgia, a misanthropic former judge (Ackland) and two frumpy, seemingly pathologically linked sisters (Fricker and Staunton), drive away staff and residents alike, threatening the business of young widow Kate (Orla Brady).

Kate's younger, free-spirited sister, Ellie (Hayley Atwell), shows up in need of a job to finance her next trip round the world -- and just in time to form a bond with wheelchair-bound Alice (Joan O'Hara), a quietly rebellious soul who knows that she's about to die. (O'Hara herself died not long after shooting wrapped.) When a family-crisis plot contrivance calls away Kate, Ellie must oversee Christmas week with the terrible four, the only residents who don't leave to spend the holidays with friends or family.

The inevitable bonding unfolds through the inevitable series of blowups and ostensibly hilarious mischief. Atwell ("Cassandra's Dream") holds her own with her formidable co-stars, who can do only so much with Jean Pasley's thin, repetitive script. While it's good to see Redgrave in a sizable role, it would have been better to see her and her colleagues in roles of more substance. She and Ackland bring a certain gravitas to their screen time, while Fricker, as bossy pill Heather, and especially Staunton, as scared-of-her-own-shadow Hazel, are required to play in a more comic key.

"How About You" is not without its moments of insight, but its emotional arc is a straight line from A to B, a path made all the more obvious by the heart-tugging score. Filmed at Mount Usher Gardens in Ashford, County Wicklow, and in Northern Island, the film looks good on a $9 million budget.

HOW ABOUT YOU
Ferndale Films in association with Bankside Films, Head Gear Films and Sarah Radclyffe Prods.
Credits:
Director: Anthony Byrne
Writer: Jean Pasley
Based on the short story by: Maeve Binchy
Producers: Noel Pearson, Sarah Radclyffe
Director of photography: Des Whelan
Music: Niall Byrne
Production designer: Tom McCullagh
Costume designer: Hazel Webb-Crozier
Editor: Emma E. Hilcox
Cast:
Georgia: Vanessa Redgrave
Hazel: Imelda Staunton
Heather: Brenda Fricker
Ellie: Hayley Atwell
Dan: Joss Ackland
Kate: Orla Brady
Alice: Joan O'Hara
Running time -- 90 minutes
No MPAA rating
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