Michael Radford’s romantic comedy Elsa & Fred is a remake of Marcos Carnevale’s Spanish-language film of the same name, and it also retains the original’s obsession with La Dolce Vita.
It’s seventysomething Elsa (Shirley MacLaine) who is obsessed with the Fellini picture, telling older widower and new neighbor Fred (Christopher Plummer) that back in the day she was a dead ringer for Anita Ekberg. World-weary Fred doesn’t quite believe that — or much of anything else she claims, such as Picasso having painted her — yet he finds himself drawn into her orbit all the same, despite his desire to just lie around and wait for death’s cold embrace.
This occasionally charming November-December romance has elements of a Douglas Sirk woman’s weepie, particularly in how Elsa’s romance with Fred is met with disapproval from her son Raymond (Scott Bakula, who never quite stops looking happy to be acting with MacLaine), but the movie eventually goes into Woody Allen territory in the best way possible.
Similarly, Elsa & Fred is strangely overstuffed with decent character actors, including George Segal, Marcia Gay Harden, Wendell Pierce, and James Brolin. Maybe they all wanted an excuse to shoot a movie in New Orleans, though getting to work with MacLaine and Plummer probably didn’t hurt, either.