A Christmas movie in September typically means either throwaway scheduling or advance Oscar positioning. And, for a while, this modest little picture from novice writer-director Nik Fackler seems to offer little more than the slightly dismaying sight of two great old actors striving to do right by a standard senior rom-com about dating in the sunset years. Martin Landau and a glowing Ellen Burstyn plunge gamely into first-date nerves with inept counseling from kooky supporting characters, hand-holding, whispered histories, tobogganing down snowy hillsides, and the inevitable growing intimacy. Astutely placed hints begin to drop—a scary painting, a recurring nightmare, a terrified little girl—that something's not right with this sticky-sweet scenario and its Capra-esque packaging. Cinematographer Sean Kirby lights us subtly across genres, but the goal here is less to build toward the a-ha! jolt than to carry us slowly through the emotional experience of unfolding disaster. The acting is great, with excellent back-up from Adam Scott as a brash young store manager and Elizabeth Banks as Burstyn's worried daughter. Call Lovely, Still life-affirming if you must, but its uplift is designed less to reassure than to honor the difficult process of how we deal when faced with the loss of those we have loved.
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