BOYNTON BEACH CLUB

NR
Reviews

As meandering as an old man in an Oldsmobile-and with more heart and respect than to use a stereotype like that-filmmaker Susan Seidelman marks a welcome return with her first American feature in 17 years. The one-time wunderkind who caught the zeitgeist with Smithereens (1982) and Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) somehow self-destructed with the clunky comedies Making Mr. Right (1987), Cookie and She-Devil (both 1989). She carved a decent career for herself afterward with TV directing-most notably for HBO's "Sex and the City"-and did an Oscar-nominated short ("The Dutch Master," 1994) plus an English-language movie in Spain (Gaudi Afternoon, 2001). But for the most part, her early aficionados were left Decidedly Seeking Susan.

The Florida-shot indie Boynton Beach Club won't get her back into Hollywood's good graces-it's small, with a lot of location shooting but little in the way of directorial pyrotechnics-but this low-key ensemble comedy about how even retirees can be awkward, tingly teenagers when it comes to the opposite sex is both sweet and real. Credit the casting for much of that-one of the great things about the pool of older actors is that it's usually the real pros who get to swim in it. Shot in 2005 and released in South Florida on March 17, 2006, it opens nationally Aug. 4.

Based on real-life retirement tales boiled into a screen story by widower David Cramer and his friend, Seidelman's mother Florence, and shaped into a script by Susan and Coral Springs, Florida writer Shelly Gitlow, Boynton finds the sensible but scrappy Marilyn Cooper (Brenda Vaccaro) suddenly widowed. Turning to the Boynton Beach Bereavement Club, she becomes friends with vivacious interior decorator Lois Martin (the stunningly sexy 68-year-old Dyan Cannon. Wow). Concurrently, new widower Jack Goodman (Len Cariou) is befriended by fellow club-member Harry Fanelli (Joseph Bologna), a good-time guy with roughhewn class. Jack is wooed by Sandy Welles (Sally Kellerman, looking a bit frighteningly tight-faced), while Lois courts younger divorced man Don Peterson (Michael Nouri, 60 when this was made), who works as, she believes, a real-estate developer. Bologna's wife and longtime stage partner Renée Taylor has a bit part that at first seems like her trademark yenta, but takes an unexpected turn.

The various threads don't much intersect, and while that makes for a refreshing lack of contrivance and coincidence, it also makes the movie more episodic than need be. There are occasional diversions-Harry meets a hot fifty-something (Janice Hamilton) online who proves a little too good to be true; Marilyn's given a dog she doesn't want; Jack's single daughter (Kim Ostrenko) and Goth granddaughter (Ashley Blackwell) find his late wife's diaries and marijuana stash-that just feel like cute anecdotes the filmmakers wanted to include. You won't mistake this for Robert Altman. Yet these and other less-than-earth-shattering conflicts and the film's utter lack of artifice make it all work, despite the lack of dramatic edge. You're left with the feeling that maybe second adolescence won't be so bad, and that even after unspeakable loss-and not just of spouses-people can find the strength to keep living and to find love and friendship.

It helps, of course, that none of these conspicuously Caucasian retirees are living on just Social Security checks; it's a lot harder to pick oneself up when you have to choose between food or medicine. But even the comfortably well-off can't take it with 'em when it's time to go-death is a great leveler. Fortunately for us all, so is love.

-Frank Lovece