The world could use more films about characters entering their sunset years, but not this one.

While the world could certainly use more films about characters entering their sunset years, a solution as toothless and saggy as Julie Gavras’ “Late Bloomers” does little to help the cause. Isabella Rossellini and John Hurt play a long-married couple who suddenly realize they’re closer to the grave than they are the cradle, a revelation they respond to in ways that are radically different except in their lack of inspiration. Though the cast should draw older audiences en masse, that demo may not take kindly to having the anxieties of aging patronizingly served up like so much pre-chewed food.

Architect Adam (Hurt) and retired schoolteacher Mary (Rossellini) have weathered the truly dramatic twists in their life quite well, raising three children to be successful, self-reliant adults. Now, just when the two should be starting to unwind and enjoy their lives, Mary suffers a bout of memory loss that triggers fears of Alzheimer’s. Though a false alarm, the incident comes as a wake-up call for Mary, who overnight decides that she’s O-L-D and goes about adjusting her life accordingly, installing safety bars in the bathroom and looking for a suitable volunteer activity to fill her free time.

Meanwhile, Adam can’t help feeling his age, either, though he’s facing the issue in a more conventional midlife-crisis style. After a distinguished career spent building airports and transit terminals, he’s asked by his entertaining but cartoonishly shallow boss (Simon Callow) to design an innovative retirement community project. Frankly, Adam would rather not have anything to do with old people — with the exception of his unavoidable battle-axe mother-in-law (Doreen Mantle, also veering into parody), whom the years haven’t dulled in the slightest — and he certainly doesn’t think of himself as one of them.

How ever will the couple reconcile their different views on the subject? Will it all end in divorce? And where on earth does Rossellini get that wonderful jewelry? (The first two answers are obvious. The third: Bulgari.) Dramatically speaking, the mysteries of young love — namely, how two people manage to end up on the same wavelength at the same time — may be more romantic, but they’re not nearly so interesting as the challenges of keeping that fire alive over the years. And yet, “Late Bloomers” is so focused on the issue of age that the resulting character study feels frustratingly one-dimensional.

Instead of finding an interesting narrative in which the characters happen to be confronting the fact that they’re not as spry as they once were, Gavras and co-writer Olivier Dazat build the entire film around the subject, leaving all other subplots unresolved in the end. The resulting treatise bombards us with a litany of old-fogey situations: Mary studies the perky young hardbodies at her aqua-fit classes like they’re some sort of alien species, Adam is mistaken for a retirement-home resident during one of his research visits, and so on. It’s all about as amusing as watching Grandma try to work the VCR — and every bit as predictable, right down to the leads’ respective affairs, which conveniently occur at the same time, for some cross-cutting action.

The production team delivers an all-around polished package, ably wrangling this intermittently interesting tale into something resembling a big-studio comedy. Scenes have a tendency to either go on too long or go nowhere at all, making it tough for even leads as expert as Hurt and Rossellini to breathe vigor into such a stuffy pair of characters as these.

Late Bloomers

France-U.K.-Belgium

Production

A Gaumont presentation, in association with Canal Plus and CineCinemas, of a Les Films du Worso, Le Bureau, Gaumont production, in co-production with Be-Films, with the support of Procirep, Angoa-Agicoa. (International sales: Gaumont, Paris.) Produced by Sylvie Pialat, Bertrand Faivre. Co-producers, Christophe Louis, Adrian Politowski, Gilles Waterkeyn, Tristan Golighter. Directed by Julie Gavras. Screenplay, Gavras, Olivier Dazat.

Crew

Camera (color), Nathalie Durand; editor, Pierre Haberer; music, Sodi Marciszewer; production designer, Eve Stewart; supervising art director, David Hindle; costume designer, Marianne Agertoft; sound, Simon Farmer; re-recording mixers, Aymeric Dupas, Nicolas Naegelen; line producer, Victoria Goodall; assistant director, Stuart Renfrew; casting, Kathleen Crawford. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale Speciale), Feb. 16, 2011. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Adam - William Hurt
Mary - Isabella Rossellini
Nora - Doreen Mantle
Guilia - Kate Ashfield
James - Aidan McArdle
Maya - Arta Dobroshi
Benjamin - Luke Treadaway
With: Leslie Phillips, Hugo Speer, Joanna Lumley, Simon Callow, Iona Warne, Ryan Quartley, Nicholas Farrell, Sushil Chudasama, Joanna Bobin. (English, Italian dialogue)

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