In 1965, 21-year-old Who frontman Roger Daltrey screamed, “I hope I die before I get old.” His drummer listened; the Young @ Heart choir didn’t.
Occasionally, a motion picture comes along that’s so powerful, so captivating, so full of grit, that it changes your entire outlook. This film didn’t change my life, and in all probability, it won’t alter yours either. But as I was sitting in a sparsely filled theater double taking while an elderly man got up from his seat and danced along with James Brown’s soulful voice and an eighty-three year old great-great grandmother on screen, I silently realized no film has ever made me feel so blissful, so content, so at peace. Young @ Heart is The Rocky Horror Picture Show for geriatrics– it’s not a visually stunning masterpiece but by God, is it a mirthy and satisfying hour and a half.
We treat old people like used up mules in this country. Once they’ve put in their fifty years of service, we focus our love and attention on more serviceable generations. Young @ Heart is the story of twenty or so seventy-five pluses who said no, I’m not shutting up, giving in, or dying quietly in an old folks home. I’ve got something left, and don’t you dare try to stop me. So they pulled out their canes, put on their dancing shoes, and started a choir.
In 1982, Bob Cilman started a singing troupe for the elderly citizens of Northampton, Massachusetts. Performing mostly vaudeville throwback numbers, the group achieved a small measure of local fame, but everything changed two years later when one of the performers broke into a spontaneous rendition of Manfred Mann’s “Doo Wah Ditty.” The crowd was raucous. Applause engulfed the stage, and the group has been performing Rock N Roll and Pop songs ever since. In fact, the troupe became so successful over the next two decades they were invited to headline throughout Europe and even play for the King of Norway. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, heart disease!
While Young @ Heart could technically be classified as a concert film, it actually formats more like a Christopher Guest film. We start out at rehearsals and slowly meet many of the movie’s more lively characters as time progresses and the tension builds before their performance. There’s Lenny, an eighty-six year old bicycle enthusiast who openly mocks his own driving. There’s Fred, an eighty year old former heart attack victim who jokes about keeping his nephew out of the will. There’s Eileen, a ninety-two year old temptress who flirts with younger crew members and offers the other singers sips of her gin-and-tonic. If the old women from Cocoon had sex with the Wonders, their children wouldn’t be half as loveable and outrageous as this pack of old broads and crazy codgers, and of course, I mean broads and codgers in the most endearing way possible.
Based on my Christopher Guest/ mockumentary comparison, it would be easy to cast Young @ Heart off as a novelty act, on paper at least, but I assure you these entertainers are more New York Philharmonic than Kriss Kross. It’s not a sideshow. It’s not a big goof at their expense. Listening to one of the group’s featured soloists perform Sinead O’Conner’s “Nothing Compares 2 U" with every bit as much passion and conviction as the Irishwoman herself left no doubt of where I would classify this band. Art. Pure, beautiful, spellbinding, tingles down your back art.
Go see this movie. Bring your mom. Bring your grandmother. Bring everyone you know. It’ll brighten your day, I promise.