A sweet snapshot of America’s elderly, “The Personals: Improvisations on Romance in the Golden Years” is a delicate look at loneliness and the life lessons collected by a group of energetic senior citizens. Having just nabbed this year’s Academy Award for documentary short subject, Japanese director Keiko Ibi’s film makes its TV debut on the HBO Signature multiplex channel as a Double Exposure presentation. Subsequent playdates will give subscribers a chance to catch up with the pic, which has already screened at fests across the country.
A nonfiction, no-frills cross between “Cocoon” and “The Joy of Sex,” Ibi’s take on sensuality among the aged, filmed as her NYU graduate thesis, stands out because of its simplicity: These humble, tired individuals are pining for a gentle touch, a meaningful hug or just some deserved attention. “Personals” will go a long way in convincing viewers that their parents and grandparents aren’t passionless relatives who live only for knitting and soft-boiled eggs.
Narrative features a mostly Jewish bunch from Manhattan’s Lower East Side who are members of the Alliance Stage acting company at a local community center. With the guidance of Seth Glassman, the thesps have decided to put on a play based on their own fictitious personal ads. Throughout the weeks of preparation, Ibi intercuts between rehearsals and home-based interviews while revealing the participants’ true feelings about commitment, devotion and sex.
While these folks are no threat to Lemmon and Matthau, there’s humor, honesty and sadness in everyone’s enthusiasm, and their eagerness is contagious. Honorable mentions go to 82-year-old Harold Gordon, whose spunk could rival that of any younger playboy, and Selma Wernick, a woman who’s not embarrassed to admit that she needs someone to hold her.
Despite its inherent likability, “Personals” lacks tonal consistency. While the soul-searching wisdom of 12 people is certainly enough on which to base a docu, there’s too much going on: Within the brief running time, Harold has surgery, the program’s funding runs out and Selma eyes a new career as an actress — it’s all a bit jumpy.
But nothing can take away from the genuine emotion on display. “Personals” gives a rarely heard generation the opportunity to speak about first loves and burning flames, and in that respect, it hits the mark squarely.
Tech credits are good, with Ibi and Milton Ginsberg’s smooth-cut editing standing out.