SXSW: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ star breaks his hip on screen, but doesn’t break his leg in the role.
There are late bloomers and there are those who don’t bloom at all. Unfortunately for Lisa Steen’s debut film, Late Bloomers, the film doesn’t open in time to become something great. The dramedy follows Louise (Karen Gillan), an aimless 28-year-old musician who breaks her hip while drunkenly chasing her ex. Because of her injury, Louise befriends a group of elderly women at physical therapy and unwittingly becomes the caretaker of the grumpy Polish-speaking Antonina (Margaret Sophie Stein).
The parallel between Louise and Antonina is explained only by their shared shrug of polite social norms and their blatant disregard for convention: Louise avoids confronting her ailing mother (Talia Balsam), who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, and avoids calling her absent-minded father (Tim Nealon ), while Antonina deals with moving into the retirement home. A nod to Antonina’s youth and relationship with her own late daughter only pops up in the background of “Late Bloomers,” teasing what the film could have been.
Instead, “Late Bloomers” is obsessed with over-explaining how irritating Louise must be. As someone in her character’s shockingly accurate target audience – Louise is fresh out of a long-term relationship, 28, and hasn’t had sex in two years – Louise feels like a Grumpy Café extra from Girls. Gillan does her best impression of Aya Cash, but the jokes fall flat, especially compared to her previous work in the MCU and the “Jumanji” franchise.
We’re told Louise has “become a selfish brat” and has “a lot of growing up to do” in the first five minutes of the film as she moans about being a year post-breakup after dating her boyfriend for five years. Louise thrashes so much that she falls off the side of the railing while drunkenly (and aimlessly) trying to break into her ex’s new house. The awkward jokes are flatter than Louise’s body pounding on the pavement.
Louise is such a stereotypical millennial (Gen Zer? never mind) that she sees her broken hip as “a sign from the universe to take better care of herself.” Although Antonina and Louise present a dynamic similar to the fictional female version of “The Upside,” the character is used more as an unusual prop. Antonina does not speak English and only shouts in Polish; it’s a shame we can’t understand anything she says since there are no subtitles, without Antonina speaking her native language to her family or her Polish neighbors. It’s hard for the audience to buy into the joke, but it’s easy when the joke is just “oh, that’s not English”.
The motives behind Louise and Antonina’s friendship are even more obscure. Louise gives Antonina an excuse to get out of the house and do a physical therapy routine; Antonina seems to promise Louise that she hides her valuables in a suitcase under her bed, because all great May-December friendships are rooted in bribes from what she receives after their deaths.
Louise and Antonina have a fun, admittedly too-short montage of them wearing adult diapers, dancing and applying makeup at the local pharmacy. But “Late Bloomers” makes it clear that this friendship is not the central plot of the film: Antonina is just another distraction for Louise, who is running away from the reality of growing up single, alone, without a mother. Louise may have fallen off a roof, but she still hasn’t fallen out of love with her ex-boyfriend or emotionally out of her nest with her parents.
Louise’s roommate and best friend Brick (Jermaine Fowler) tells her that her late twenties represent the threshold of a “tundra” of disappointment and that the best way to deal with this existential crisis is to be “less self-centered.” Louise doesn’t listen, and when Antonina ends up in the hospital, Louise goes back to where she started. There’s an arc here that we’re told in minute detail that seems as emotionally worthless as the suitcase under Antonina’s bed. It’s only when Louise ends up in her own mother’s nursing home that we get a whisper of emotional depth that comes too little too late.
“Late Bloomers” premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival. Currently looking for distribution.
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