Film Review: All Together

Writer-director Stéphane Robelin pictures a unique approach to getting old for a group of French friends, aided by a can-do and very glamorous transplanted American played by Jane Fonda.

Jane Fonda has her best role in a very long time in All Together, playing it perfectly and looking great in those svelte French pants, dumping the granola grandma garb and persona of Peace, Love & Misunderstanding. Still a provocateur and still seductive (how many female actors can look sexy while shopping for their own casket?), she is also an emotional lynchpin for All Together, the story of five best friends from “the ’60s”—yes, even in France—facing a change they don’t want this time around: failing health, worries about isolation, and trying to avoid the specter of a nursing home.

All Together begins with a sharply observed bit where former radicals Jean (Guy Bedos), Claude (Claude Rich) and Albert (Pierre Richard) retreat from a local protest in irritation because they are now so respectable-looking they can’t even get arrested. But soon their plights become more serious, as the septuagenarians realize their bodies, and minds, are giving out on them. Albert, in early-stage dementia, is knocked down by his rambunctious dog. Claude, a photographer and roué, has a mild heart attack. (Well-known French comic actor Rich, allowing the camera to linger on his chubby body in the bathtub, is very funny as he wails about losing his sex appeal. And the bit where he purchases Viagra mirrors a similar scene in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.)

Worrying about Claude, seeing Albert’s forgetfulness, the former activist Jean comes up with the notion they should all live together: the utopian ideal of communal living perhaps reminiscent of their youth. Jean is married to Annie (Geraldine Chaplin) and their country house is the place that gets converted for shared living. “Are you going all hippie?” asks Annie, tartly, of her husband.

The device that pulls much of this together is provided by Dirk (Daniel Brühl), whom Jeanne (Fonda) has hired to walk her husband Albert’s dog. Dirk is a student of anthropology who decides to study the geriatric folk in front of him, observing their habits, even moving into the shared house. He is also part of the sweetest section in the film as he and Jeanne walk and talk about vocation, love, sex and other raisons d’être—a leisurely sequence, spiced up by Jeanne’s hot talk about philosophy, plus some savvy romantic advice. Playing a retired professor, Fonda’s French sounds perfect to this “ugly American’s” ear; her identity is explained by the fact that she moved to Paris with her parents and never left.

A wild central scene shows passions flaming up after a sudden revelation of sexual betrayal of decades ago. A blow-up and fistfight follow at the group outdoor lunch, incongruously but humorously taking place in the bottom of a pool site Annie has dug out for her grandkids. Fitting for their friendship and generation, all ultimately forgive one another in a burlesqued moment, but only after one old friend has pulled a knife on another, threatening murder in a pique of retrospective sexual jealousy. As the song says, “C’est la vie, say the old folks. It goes to show you never can tell.” (Yet for a companion I saw the film with, who had just broken into one of the advanced decades, the film’s sex aspect was overwrought.)

There are moments which are farcical—even contrived—such as the predictable bust-out from a nursing home. Nor does the film have the surprising character transformations of Marigold Hotel; the searing moments of Amour, the recent Cannes winner from Austrian director Michael Haneke tracing the theme of the death of a beloved spouse; or the process of a specific disease, such as documentarian Alan Berliner’s disturbing look at dementia in First Cousin Once Removed. Pundits now say that as filmmakers are themselves aging, they are taking a new look at “getting on in years.” Yet one of the most endearing facts about All Together is that it was conceived by a much younger writer-director, who apparently admired something idealistic in this earlier generation. Of course, too, it’s French, greeting even senility and the Grim Reaper with flowers, good wine, food, conversation and bonhomie.