“Age is just an abstraction, not a straitjacket,” 87-year-old Craig Morrison (James Cromwell) tells his son Gavin (Ronan Rees) in Still Mine, a lovely and resonant Canadian drama based on the story of an aged New Brunswick farmer who, when his wife began to suffer symptoms of dementia, decided to build her a smaller, more manageable home than the sprawling two-story house they’d shared for 60 years.
Maybe that seems simple enough, but here in the 21st century you can’t just build yourself a house - even in rural Canada there are bureaucrats who need to see and sign off on your plans, including those that you carry around in your head. They need to make sure your lumber is up to code, even if it’s old-growth spruce that you’ve air-dried for two years. They will question the joists and joints your shipbuilder father taught you, and if you don’t jump through whatever hoops they set for you they’ll shut you down and bulldoze what you’ve built up with your own two hands on your own property.
If that synopsis makes you think of curmudgeonly old fools grumbling about the gubmint and shouting at the kids to stay off their lawn, you’re not accounting for the depth of feeling that informs the performances. Cromwell and Genevieve Bujold, who plays the slowly slipping-away Irene, are so natural and touching in their roles that you’ll forgive the inherent limitations of the premise and simply believe in their relationship. Cromwell’s Craig is a bit of a cheapskate, with what may be a little more confidence in his abilities than is warranted. He’s a good craftsman, but not perfect, and late in the game he realizes that his stubbornness and hubris was probably a mistake. Yet he’s committed to preserving his wife’s dignity and his own, even if it means a jail term.
And the wonderful French-Canadian actor Bujold is remarkable as a woman who, even as she recognizes that her faculties are leaving her, insists on being a full partner in her marriage. Irene’s relationship with Craig is sketched in deft, funny strokes. The exchanges between these two fine actors are justification enough for this film’s existence.
And in a supporting role, Campbell Scott adds a bit of ballast as Craig’s soft-spoken and perhaps long-suffering attorney. It is so small and gentle a turn that it could have felt negligible, but Scott does just enough to impress us with the man’s decency. Likewise, the supporting parts are filled out by actors who won’t be familiar to most American moviegoers, but who anchor the film to a specific, rural reality without devolving into types.
Written and directed with an uncommon straightforwardness by Michael Mc-Gowan (One Week), Still Mine is bound to be compared to Sarah Polley’s Away From Her, which covered much of the same ground with a similar lack of sentiment. While the situation here is less complicated, and the ending less ambivalent, the movie is no less true: Age is not just an abstraction; it takes its toll, but there is in the human heart an untouchable, inextinguishable flame.
Still Mine 88 Cast: James Cromwell, Genevieve Bujold, Campbell Scott, Ronan Rees Director: Michael McGowan Rating: PG-13, for some thematic elements and brief sensuality/ partial nudity Running time: 102 minutes
MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 09/20/2013
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