Review: ‘Boynton Beach Bereavement Club’

Susan Seidelman's sprightly, rueful comedy about death and survival in an "active adult" community in Florida cannily showcases the undimmed talents of seasoned divas Dyan Cannon, Sally Kellerman and Brenda Vaccaro. "Boynton Beach Bereavement Club's" upbeat urbanity could still resonate with younger adults.

Susan Seidelman’s sprightly, rueful comedy about death and survival in an “active adult” community in Florida cannily showcases the undimmed talents of seasoned divas Dyan Cannon, Sally Kellerman and Brenda Vaccaro, ably partnered by Joseph Bologna and Len Cariou. Briskly paced humor and/or pathos flow organically from situation and characters, with age providing less an occasion for one-liners than a now-or-never excuse to wallow in unfettered personality expression (not that Vaccaro, Kellerman or Cannon were ever shrinking violets). Unlikely to attract optimum demographics, “Boynton Beach Bereavement Club’s” upbeat urbanity could still resonate with younger adults while veteran star power brings in the boomers.

Script interweaves stories of the five leads around the titular support group, picking each character up at various stages of bereavement.

Rawest loss belongs to Marilyn (Vaccaro). Viewers see a flashback of her irresistibly lively husband, mambo-ing down a suburban street, greeting everyone in sight, until a cell-phoning yenta (Renee Taylor) heedlessly backs out of her driveway and rolls over him.

A grieving Marilyn is brought into the survivors’ club by Lois (Cannon), and the two are soon best girlfriends.

The second most recently bereaved, at three and a half months, is Jack (Cariou), who soon pairs up with self-styled “ladies’ man” Harry (Joseph Bologna). If the opposite sex brings sparkle and spice back into living, same-sex buddies prove invaluable encyclopedias of basic survival skills in the clueless aftermath of co-dependency.

In addition to dealing with such mundane impossibilities as driving or cooking, the newly bereft are dragged kicking and screaming into pastel-hued romance by their erstwhile friends and supporters. Resuming dating at any age is daunting. Contemplating sleeping with a new partner in retirement homes strewn with memorabilia or stripped of specificity, after decades of comfortable cohabitation, looms difficult enough without the particular problems posed by post-prime sexuality.

Thus Jack’s flustered rejection of Sandy’s (Kellerman’s) dignified but overt sexual advances are hardly ego-shattering for the always upfront Sandy, her maturity also a blessing in dealing with panicky males.

Lois finds neither age nor performance an issue in her rejuvenating affair with a younger Donald (Michael Nouri). Equal to the challenge of motorcycling, rollerblading or picnicking in high heels and high winds on a deserted beach in the harsh light of day, Lois is shocked to discover in herself an unexpected streak of snobbery when she finds out her suave Prince Charming has a less than classy job.

And Harry’s adventures in Internet dating deliver a great story along with a rude awakening when a too-good-to-be-true date turns out to come with a pricetag (the colorful rows of elaborate specialty vibrators in the bathroom closet should have been a dead giveaway).

Remarkably free of condescension, cheapshot geriatric jokes, “special people” emotion-tugging, or falling-in-love musical montages, “Boynton Beach Bereavement Club” finds Seidelman in fine form, her career-long fascination with the interplay between “offbeat” and “normal” behavior breaking fertile new ground in the over-60s set while the sun-drenched aridity and acrylic-toned flatness of southern Florida adds new compositional color to her palette.

Real locations nicely serve the indie budget, the relative isolation of the retirement community easily alibiing pic’s modest scale. Apt musical selections nostalgically wallpaper Kevin Kropp’s understatedly kitschy set design.

Boynton Beach Bereavement Club


A Snowbird Films/NOW production. Produced by Florence Seidelman, Susan Seidelman. Executive producers, Deborah Shantz van Eck, Blair Treisman Rosenfeld. Co-producer, Jamin O'Brien. Directed by Susan Seidelman. Screenplay, Seidelman, Shelly Gitlow.


Camera (color), Eric Moynier; editor. Keiko Deguchi; music, Marcelo Zarvos; production designer, Kevin Kropp; costume designer, Sarah Beers; sound (Dolby Digital), Jon Tendrich. Reviewed at Hamptons Film Festival (Spotlight), Oct. 21, 2005. Running time: 105 MIN.


Dyan Cannon, Brenda Vaccaro, Sally Kellerman, Joseph Bologna, Len Cariou, Michael Nouri, Renee Taylor.

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