There is plenty here to recommend for those who enjoy seeing great performances from great actors (Elliott Gould, in particular, is wonderful) but there’s just not quite enough to make the well-intentioned Fred a wholly satisfying movie.
Fred stays with his wife Susan, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Fred is getting a bit senile in his old age but doesn’t have it quite so bad, he’s forgetful and shouldn’t be left to his own devices for too long. Susan is much further down the dark path, as sad as this is for her family to accept, and the time has come to put her into a care facility. The family are insistent that Fred must also move to be close to his wife and be looked after but Fred doesn’t want to give up his life and his sense of still being self-dependent, to a degree. Leaving his home will be an admittance that he can no longer completely look after himself.
It’s popped up so frequently over the past year or so that Alzheimer’s seems to have become the easy “bonus disease” for mainstream movie makers to add to their movies for the sake of some extra emotional content. In two of the first titles that spring to my mind, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and Friends With Benefits, I happen to think that it was handled quite well but there’s still no denying the fact that it was a sanitised version of the condition. In this movie it feels very much like the real thing, with all of the pain that accompanies it.
Elliott Gould is excellent in the title role and Judith Roberts is even more impressive as poor Susan but the small supporting cast don’t ever match the lead performances. Indeed, it seems churlish to expect them to but with a movie so dependent on the performances and emotions of the material it’s not good enough to have such mismatched styles. Stephanie Roth Haberle doesn’t do too badly as the caring daughter and I can’t really say that Fred Melamed does much wrong either, it’s just that the former is a more serious performance while the latter feels like something plucked from the latest series of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration but just watch the scenes between Melamed and Robert Miller (who plays a sensitive music therapist) and tell me that I’m wrong.
Writer/director Richard Ledes crafts something that’s quietly powerful in places but just quiet in others. It feels like a very personal film (with both the content and the dedication during the end credits) and it allows some of the characters to have some interesting moments together but too much is missing from the mix. Mfoniso Udofia plays one of the more interesting characters, the carer living with Fred and Susan who has to contain her own exasperation when questioned by all around her, but is given very little screentime beyond anything that simply establishes her role. Then we have young Ariana Altman, playing the little girl who brightens up the day for her grandparents – a perfect excuse to use a complete innocent to ask some of the more difficult questions about the future in store for our characters but, sadly, another person underused. Instead, we get more bickering between the family members and some strained humour. Which is a sad waste of potential.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: RICHARD LEDES
STARS: ELLIOTT GOULD, FRED MELAMED, STEPHANIE ROTH HABERLE, JUDITH ROBERTS, MFONISO UDOFIA, ARIANA ALTMAN, ROBERT MILLER
RUNTIME: 74 MINS APPROX