The film “Elsa & Fred” belongs in a niche genre which would appeal to those in the “Over 70” category. Because I fit that description, I would recommend this sweet story to all of my confreres in that age bracket.
It is heartening to discover that a film studio still has the sense to employ elderly actors and to go out of their way to find the perfect vehicle for them to display their talent. Such is the case with “Elsa & Fred” as played by Shirley MacLaine and Christopher Plummer.
Christopher Plummer - Wikimedia
Fred, who is 80 years old, lost his wife about seven months ago. His daughter Lydia (Marcia Gay Harden) worries about his welfare and convinces him against his will to move to a small apartment which would not require much work to keep up. Fred likes to keep to himself, and in fact to stay in bed most of the time watching television and reading the newspaper.
When his kitchen faucet springs a leak which he is unable to stop, he goes into the hall yelling for help. His next door neighbor Elsa comes running and knows immediately where the hidden valve is to turn off the water. This is the first meeting of Elsa and Fred.
Elsa failed to mention that she rammed into a car outside belonging to Lydia’s husband Jack (Chris Noth). Their son Michael saw her speed away and eventually told on her although she threatened him to keep quiet. Lydia and Jack demanded payment from Elsa while her son Ray (Scott Bakula) was visiting, and Ray assured them they would receive a check for $1500. When Elsa brings the check to Fred, he refuses to accept it, and gives Lydia $1500 in cash, telling her that the money came from Elsa.
Fred appears to have had very little happiness in his life and admits that he did not particularly like his wife, whose picture by the way shows a stern and serious female with little appeal. Both Elsa and Fred’s daughter Lydia have tried to encourage Fred to take a walk in their beautiful nearby park, but he refuses, saying he hates parks.
Lydia and Jack paid an unexpected visit to Fred, seeking financial help for a venture which Jack would like to promote. He has a prototype model of a “glass finder” for those who set their eyeglasses down and forget where they laid them. It is a remote control device which makes the eyeglasses beep when a button on the device is pressed. The device can be worn around the neck. Fred wonders aloud why a person could not just wear the eyeglasses around his neck and thus avoid the middle man. Jack claims he would need start-up money of $60,000 to get the project up and running. Fred said he would think about it. On her way out, Lydia told Fred the money needed was more like $90,000.
Shirley MacLaine - Wikimedia
Elsa appears at first to be much more interested in Fred’s company than he in hers. Fred prefers the privacy of his apartment where he can be alone. Surprisingly, Elsa finally convinces Fred to take a walk in the park, and their friendship seems to take a step forward.
Elsa relates to Fred a dream she has always had, and which her husband, who is dead, never agreed to have it fulfilled. Elsa loved the old-time black-and-white movie “La Dolce Vita,” starring Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni, particular the scene where Anita wades into the Trevi Fountain in Rome, followed by Marcello, and the two embrace as the waters fall on them. Elsa has always wanted to visit the Trevi Fountain, wading into it just as Anita Ekberg had done.
Elsa is bent on curing Fred’s reclusiveness and arranges to have them both take dance lessons. When Fred realizes her plan at the dance studio, he refuses and stalks out, embarrassing Elsa. Back home, Elsa reveals to Fred that she loves him and offers to make amends by taking him to dinner. When they finish their expensive $400 dinner, Elsa suggests that they casually get up and walk out without paying, which they do. Fred is so enchanted with Elsa by this time that he can only laugh at her latest escapade. He cannot remember the last time he laughed.
Elsa mentions to Fred that she and Pablo Picasso had a platonic relationship which was really a passionate affair, although nothing untoward ever happened. Pablo drew a picture of her which she still has in her safe. When Fred asked to see the picture, she said she could not find the key to the safe. Fred begins to doubt some of Elsa’s stories, particularly this Picasso tale.
An embarrassing moment occurred when Elsa and Fred attended Elsa’s granddaughter’s birthday party. While the group was having a family picture taken, Elsa’s husband showed up, spoiling Elsa’s story that her husband had died. Although Fred was disturbed that Elsa had lied to him, he was now too much in love with her and enjoying her company too much to go back to his lonely life without her. He accepted her as she was, warts and all.
Marcia Gay Harden - Wikinedia
When Fred learned that Elsa was on dialysis and her life was in jeopardy, he surprised her with two tickets to Rome so they could wade into the Trevi Fountain. This required him to go back on his promise to Lydia and Jack to fund their project. At the Fountain, Elsa told Fred she loved him more than she had ever loved anyone. The scene at the Trevi Fountain was done in black and white, just as it was in the original film “La Dolce Vita.” And yes, Fred followed Elsa into the Fountain in the dark of night, where they kissed, fulfilling Elsa’s lifelong dream.
The ending is so touching that you must see it to appreciate it. It was unexpected, yet tied everything up neatly, leaving the viewer smiling rather than crying at this bittersweet ending.