Film Review: Wrinkles

Literally dedicated to "all the old people of today, and of tomorrow," this animated look at aging is deeply humanistic, immensely moving, often hilarious and quite, quite wonderful.

Wrinkles is anything but your typical inane and crassly commercial cartoon feature. As its stark title would indicate, it deals with senior citizens, particularly Emilio (voice of Martin Sheen), who is facing encroaching Alzheimer's disease. His exasperated family dumps him in an elderly-care facility where he shares a room with Miguel (George Coe), a spry and sly codger who shows him the ropes, which mainly consist of keeping one's mind alert and active to battle mental fogginess and avoid being placed in the dreaded "upstairs" ward, where the most hopeless mindless ones are ruthlessly relegated. The film follows them as they eke out their very circumscribed lives in the home, sharing sad dinners with the other residents, going in for the occasional useless bout of physical therapy, but mostly, as the ever-caustic Miguel puts it, just "pooping, sleeping and eating."

Surely a depressing premise, but, based on Paco Roca's acclaimed and popular Spanish graphic novel and wonderfully directed by Ignacio Ferreras, Wrinkles is infused with a sly wit, deep humanity and, most essentially, a realistically dry-eyed attitude toward the plight of the aged, which never veers into bathos. The animation is nothing special, not much more than perfunctory, really, but its very simplicity serves the rich material quite beautifully, as does Nani Garcia's subtle yet piercingly effective music. Miguel's character is most responsible for the vital spunk factor here: He's as wily as Fagin, as he whiles the time away, scamming susceptible residents out of money and mischievously creating bogus projects for them to pursue, anything not to end up like those who babble repetitively and endlessly, or the others just sitting there, staring vacantly into space. That old-age home could drive anyone to suicide, but it is limned with so much keen observation and empathy that it provides a rich fount of often smile-inducing diversion which can erupt into outright hilarity, as in a hysterical physical-therapy group encounter with a voluptuous but hapless female instructor who's the target of unwonted, unwanted lascivious lunges.

Originally made in Spanish, the movie has been dubbed into English by an American cast, and such is the complete universality of its vision that this cultural shift is virtually seamless (although the Spanish character names have been somewhat disconcertingly retained). And the deep accompanying emotion Wrinkles evokes is always honestly earned. There's a Christmas sequence which frankly captures the paltry, forced holiday cheer of that least wonderful time of the year for these people, with its rare family visitations, awkward gift exchanges and inevitable, inescapable return to loneliness once all the lights are turned off, save those blasted twinkling lights on the tree. One shot of the guest parking lot, for once filled with cars, dissolving back into dismal emptiness brought a tear to my eye, and I realized this was the only animated feature to ever do so.

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