- something about a whipper snapper.
This documentary is about the "Young at Heart" senior citizens chorus whose average age is in the 80s, conducted by a 53-year-old taskmaster and musical genius named Bob Cilman. Focusing on the rehearsals for their "Alive and Well" tour, the film follows the development of three diverse new numbers: Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia," James Brown's "I Feel Good" and Allen Toussaint's "Yes We Can-Can." The songs are chosen by Cilman, as the performers' personal tastes range from classical to opera with only a vague knowledge of rock. After performing "Should I Stay or Should I Go, " 92-year-old singer Eileen says, "I dunno, I think it's the Crash?"
The songs prove challenging, and the practices often grueling, but the devotion of these people is amazing. Through brilliant interviews, director Stephen Walker reveals the idiosyncrasies of a few wacky and touching characters: Steve, manifesting boyish exuberance; Stan, the goofy intellectual; Lenny, whose eyesight is good enough to allow him to still drive; Eileen, a Brit and ex-stripper who is a dazzling charmer; Fred and Bob, who come out of retirement for a duet; and Joe, who can memorize any song in a day. Driven by sheer passion, they all enthusiastically explain why they are in the chorus: it makes them feel young and gives them something to live for.
There are many hilarious moments, including a scene in which two guys try to negotiate the playing of a CD, the chorus trying to wrap their brains around Sonic Youth's demented poetry and several side-splitting MTVish music videos, including "I Wanna be Sedated," and "Staying Alive." On the other side of the spectrum, in one extremely poignant scene the chorus plays at a jail, bringing cellmates to tears with Bob Dylan's "Forever Young."
Due to the age of the subjects, Young at Heart inevitably delivers a heart-wrenching mortality check. Tragedy strikes - spinal meningitis, cancer, congestive heart failure, pneumonia. But the codgers put their ailments on the back burner, the show must go on. They all agree, singing makes all the aches and pains go away.
Rehearsals lead up to a sold-out show in Massachusetts, showcasing their zest for life. It's a crapshoot if they will sing all the songs correctly, but regardless, they should blow the rafters off. There's just enough tension that we root for them all the way. They don't disappoint. There will be no dry eye in the house for their version of "Fix You."
This exhilarating, nail biting, happy-sad movie belongs in a time capsule - better yet, I hope their endeavor will never die and continues as long as time itself.
I have never seen a more moving and compelling documentary that so exalts the triumph of spirit and the joyous moments of life. We're not here forever. Consider this movie a huge wake-up call not to take anything for granted and to live life to the fullest. Young at Heart's music might not always tame the savage beast, but it could save your soul... see this movie and take everyone you know.
Young at Heart ★★★★✩
Directed/narrated by Stephen Walker<P>Rated PG