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Movie Review: Young@Heart

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The Young@Heart Chorus is comprised of two dozen elderly members whose average age is 80. While you might expect covers of “Satin Doll” and “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” from this age group, the chorus of great, great grandparents sing everything from modern-day rock and roll and punk, to classic R&B and disco. Under the leadership of their founder and director Bob Cilman, the Young@Heart Chorus tours prisons and concert halls in their hometown of Northampton, Massachusetts, and once a year they even travel overseas to sing in Europe.

Presented in documentary style, Young@Heart depicts the chorus rehearsing five new songs (“Schizophrenia” by Sonic Youth, “I Got You (I Feel Good)” by James Brown, “Yes We Can Can” by the Pointer Sisters, “Life During Wartime” by Talking Heads, and “Fix You” by Coldplay) for an upcoming concert at the Academy Theatre on May 13, 2006. At the beginning, the singers and band members have seven weeks to prep and polish. By the end, some songs progress nicely as others flop, due to a variety of reasons.

The main faces of the chorus are Joe Benoit, a man with glasses that magnify his eyes, and Eileen Hall, a 92-year-old woman who speaks with a British accent and has patches of grey facial hair. However, when two previous members return (after leaving the band for health reasons) to sing a duet of Coldplay’s “Fix You,” they steal both the show and your heart. These two crooners are Bob Salvini, who was already given his last rites, and Fred Knittle, who – because of congestive heart failure – is forced to carry around an oxygen tank to assist with his breathing.

Without doubt, “Fix You” is the climax of the documentary, but along the way, audiences are also entertained by hearing “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash, “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix, “Dancing in the Dark” by Bruce Springsteen, “Forever Young” by Bob Dylan, “Nothing Compares” by Sinead O’Connor, and “She’s Not There” by The Zombies. What’s more, the Young@Heart Chorus performs “I Want to Be Sedated” by the Ramones, “Golden Years” David Bowie, “Road to Nowhere” by Talking Heads, and “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, all by way of music videos.

Music is – by-far – the centerpiece of Young@Heart. Chorus members ignore their doctors’ advice to rest and instead travel to rehearse with the group. Why? Because “singing does a lot for your whole body,” and it makes you “forget about creaky bones.” The chorus members believe that singing is a way of “expanding horizons” and “keeping the brain alive.” Besides, when audiences applaud on their feet and smiles spread, you can see in each singer’s wrinkled face that he/she loves it.

Among the pungent scents of urine, mothballs, and prune juice, there is wonder, beauty, and amusement in song. Seeing old folks boogie and discuss the correct way to insert a compact disc in a player is priceless. Witnessing songs and singers with lots of life is uplifting. Finding tears, joy, faith, hope, love, and laughs in a documentary is striking. Furthermore, viewing Young@Heart is like “acquiring 24 grandparents;” what else could be warmer?

Every person – young or old – should make time for Young@Heart. It’s hilarious and heartrending. Surely, the film will suck the tears out of your ducts and force you to rise to your feet and applaud. More importantly, you will walk away with a deeper appreciation of music, perseverance, and meeting your Maker with grace. 

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About Brandon Valentine