Rarely does a film’s title elucidate the meaning behind the plot, and when a film is titled Our Souls at Night, one may have misgivings over its material being noir-like in nature.
The film — based on the novel by Kent Haruf — sees widow Addie (Fonda) proposition widower Louis (Redford) as sleeping mates; a strictly consensual, non-sexual proposal to combat their mutual loneliness.
Off the cuff, this might sound like the set-up for a raunchy serving. Their experience is anything but that.
Batra expertly places Redford in a less-than-exciting lifestyle to sharpen the sting of seclusion that Louis has been injected with.
So, it’s understandable why it is a reasonable conclusion Louis arrives at when accepting Addie’s suggestion.
Redford and Fonda make, as they always do, an attractive pairing — one with undeniable charm and chemistry even after all these years.
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What makes the film, penned by the successful writer duo Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, even better is the sincerity with which it presents their characters. They are made real, very real.
The toll of the years is apparent in their features.
Where Redford’s initially soft-spoken Louis stands, he is paralleled by the bold Addie.
However, their dispositions are shown to conceal their true personalities that are only revealed when under the bedroom covers.
The idea is part of the underlying theme wherein one learns there is still life to live no matter how old one gets.
Besides, once their characters have settled down, you will forget the issue of their ages as the film highlights the blossoming of their relationship from the seeds of their first awkward interaction to the scent of new love sprouting like the fresh flowers in spring.
It is just as beautiful and exciting as a contemporary romantic-comedy might feel.
But, in contrast to young love, the meatier side of experience factors in to peel the layer behind the connection that develops here.
Fonda is impeccable at portraying the attractive yet emotional Addie, whose solitude isn’t due to demise of her family, but because of estrangement.
Redford contrasts this with Louis’ regret over the actions of his past.
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It helps to have a gifted child actor play the supporting role.
Iain Armitage delightfully adds zest to the relationship between the leads and gives them further room to breathe.
Armitage, known for his performance in Young Sheldon, proves he can offer more range by portraying the naive and optimistic grandson to Addie.
In many ways, one might consider this as an epilogue to the films Fonda and Redford had starred in half a century ago. Where once they were clueless youngsters settling in adult life in Barefoot in the Park, here they seal their tale teaching the moral of the inevitability of change, whether it is in youth or in one’s twilight years.
I found some elements far-fetched, worthy only of materialising in reel-life. A proper conversation or two could have saved a majority of the drama that unfolds in the climax, but Batra does little to avoid the old fashioned ‘personal conflict’ romcom trope.
Yet, the film leaves viewers with reflections of their own, perhaps, when they too curl up under the covers, waiting for their souls to reminisce.
By Saim Cheeda
Saim Cheeda is a novelist and film writer.
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