Netflix This: ‘Young@Heart’

My father once told me that being old is not for sissies.  Nobody says, “hey, I hope I get arthritis” or “gee, wouldn’t it be nice if my vision increasingly deteriorated?”  I used to hate going to rest homes because everybody was old (and more often than not they smelled like pee).  But then I realized something: as much as I don’t want to be there, I’m pretty sure none of the residents want to be there, either.

The documentary Young@Heart is the story of a choir composed of senior citizens that sings tunes by Sonic Youth, The Clash and Coldplay, among others.  The trailer above kind of makes the film seem like it might be a little tongue-in-cheek in its tone, but Young@Heart is a genuine piece of filmmaking that is a testament to living life to its fullest despite the hardships of getting old.

What’s it about? Director Stephen Walker follows the choir (also called Young@Heart) as they rehearse for their next big show.  The group has toured all over the world, and choir director Bob Cilman (who’s only in his 50’s) has lined up a European tour later in the year.  Cilman started the choir about twenty years ago, and has increasingly anted up the singers’ repertoire, originally starting with Vaudeville and show tunes but now doing rock, soul, folk and punk songs.

During the rehearsals we see the choir figure out Sonic Youth’s “Schizophrenia” and James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” both of which seem to cause Cilman more grief than he thought they would.

The film profiles a few members of the choir, and some of their stories are heartwarming (like Eileen Hall, the oldest member of the group who has been with Young@Heart for 20 years), and others are heartbreaking (like Bob Salvini, a member who had to leave the group due to heart problems who has returned for a duet of Coldplay’s “Fix You”).

What’s good about it? Plenty.  Cilman does not treat his choir members like old people.  He expects them to do their best.  He doesn’t pity them and he certainly does not talk down to them.  The film is a celebration of life, and just because you’re closer to death doesn’t mean you have a death sentence.  When on the way to a performance at a local prison, the choir is informed that one of their own passed away the night before.  The show must go on, and their rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” turns out to be deeply poignant.

What’s bad about it? Not much, if anything.

Perfect for: music fans, anyone who has grandparents.

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