MRR Review: "Unfinished Song"

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Paul Andrew Williams directs his own screenplay with this music-themed comedy drama set in London's County Durham. The story centers on a grumpy retiree named Arthur (Terence Stamp) who reluctantly joins a local choir at the behest of his late wife, Marion (Vanessa Redgrave). Gemma Arterton plays the upbeat choir director while Christopher Eccleston portrays Arthur's estranged son James.
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MRR Review: "Unfinished Song"

-- Rating: PG-13 (some sexual references, rude gestures)
Length: 93 minutes
Release Date: June 21, 2013
Directed by: Paul Andrew Williams
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Music

"Unfinished Song," which was originally titled "Song for Marion," starts out as a touching love story between married sweethearts Arthur (Terrance Stamp) and Marion (Vanessa Redgrave). The two lovebirds are in their twilight years, with Marion slowly succumbing to a long illness as Arthur begrudgingly takes her to her glee club. Though Arthur is tender and loving with Marion, he hates her glee club, and actually hates glee of any kind. He is a curmudgeonly man who can't get over his anger at the world, which becomes downright explosive when Marion dies.

Arthur is grieving so much that he desperately reaches out to connect with anyone who can help him. This is completely out of character for a man who previously preferred solitude when he wasn't with Marion. The first person he reaches out to is Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton), the director of the glee club that Marion loved so much. It was Marion's wish that Arthur join the glee club as a therapeutic way of dealing with his anger, but it isn't until she dies that he finally relents. In doing so, he opens himself up to a whole new world, finding a singing voice that he didn't know he had.

The release he gets from singing softens Arthur enough that he begins to form bonds with members of the club. He especially takes a shining to Elizabeth and goes so far as to try and fix her broken love life because he wants to see her happy. The last step in Arthur's transformation from angry recluse to happy singer involves his son James (Christopher Eccleston). James is the only son of Arthur and Marion, and he has been estranged from his father for many years. Will Arthur finally overcome the obstacles that tripped up their father-son relationship, or will he fail and regress back to the curmudgeonly hermit he was about to become?

Several movies bring in big-name actors for small parts knowing that the characters will be killed off just a few minutes into the film. In "Unfinished Song," Redgrave takes the part of one such character and knocks it out of the park. Her Marion is a fun, spirited, and spunky woman whose pores seem to be teeming with life even as she is slowly dying. This is in direct contrast to Arthur, who is almost vile when he isn't showing his deep affection for Marion. These two prove that opposites really do attract, yet they are completely believable as a couple because of Redgrave's performance. She even gets to sing a solo song, a rendition of Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors" that is so touching the audience will need a tissue. Stamp is no slouch here either, peeling away Arthur's many layers like an irritable onion. When he finally has his emotional musical release, the audience buys it because he has spent so much time uncovering Arthur's journey to that point.

With the success of Fox's TV show "Glee," it is no surprise that movies with glee clubs in them are being made. The club in "Unfinished Song" is very much like its television counterpart in that it is made up of a ragtag group of diverse individuals, although they range from elderly people like Marion to younger teens and people in their twenties or thirties. They also sing a wide variety of songs, including past hits like "Let's Talk About Sex" by Salt 'n Pepa and "Love Shack" by the B-52s. This isn't an everyday glee club, which is a large part of the charm of the film. This band of misfits is a singing motley crew that helps to save Arthur from himself now that Marion is no longer there to do it.

Director Paul Andrew Williams also wrote the screenplay, so he was already intimately familiar with these characters. This shows in the casting, as each of the main roles was perfectly filled by a very capable actor. Redgrave is touching, Stamp is affecting, and Arterton is absolutely charming. The mix of these three, especially as Stamp's and Arterton's characters begin their unlikely bond, makes for an irresistible movie. So many human emotions are touched upon during the film, yet none of it feels rushed and forced. With all this emotion, the film could have easily veered into saccharine territory, but Williams wisely avoids this. Instead, he wrote a film that is emotional, authentic, occasionally raw, and occasionally weepy. The song may be unfinished, but the pack of tissues the audience will need to see the film won't be.

Rating: 3 out of 5