San Francisco Chronicle
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 12, 2013
Get out your handkerchiefs for "Unfinished Song," an unabashed tearjerker that has some surprisingly potent moments. Assembled mostly from generic ingredients, it's a comedy-drama about an elderly British couple's involvement with a community chorus of adorable oldsters — think "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" meets "The Full Monty."
To be fair, buried in all the shameless sentiment is a touching family story, bolstered by the performances of veterans Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave.
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Their characters, Arthur and Marion, are married pensioners living in a small town in Northern England. Marion has cancer, but she is an outgoing, optimistic sort who finds solace joining an amateur choir of the elderly, to the great annoyance of her cantankerous spouse. Arthur clearly loves her, but he's a sour pickle who's alienated everyone else, including their now-grown son (Christopher Eccleston), a single dad raising a daughter.
The chorus is directed by a chipper young woman (Gemma Arterton), and the film's main running gag is that she has her creaky charges performing rock, heavy metal and rap songs (e.g. "Ace of Spades," "Let's Talk About Sex"). She works hard to whip them into shape to enter a choir competition, just as hard as director Paul Andrew Williams rides this one-note gag.
But "Unfinished Song" has its more serious side, about surly Arthur's suffering and severe emotional constriction in the face of his wife's impending death. He's invited to join the chorus (he's fond of Sinatra). It's not his thing, but he's so shaken that he just might give it a shot. Maybe he'll even reach out to his disaffected son.
There's nothing remotely subtle about any of this, and steely-eyed viewers will see it as maudlin and borderline ridiculous. But even they may find much to relish in Stamp's work. We get the sense that he fully comprehends Arthur's anguish, and his character finally has a genuineness absent from much of the rest of the movie.