Currently rolling out in fest playdates and regional theatrical runs, “At Last” is an engaging retro romantic drama about the second-chance reunion of two baby boomers fated for too-long-delayed happily-ever-aftering. Major selling points include appealing lead perfs by Martin Donovan and Kelly Lynch, sly comic relief by supporting player M.C. Gainey — and beautifully evocative lensing by Roberto Schaefer (“Finding Neverland,” “Monster’s Ball”) of locations throughout pre-Katrina New Orleans. Pic likely won’t find its widest and most appreciative aud until it fast-forwards to homevid and cable, but well-crafted indie could earn decent B.O. coin with perfect-pitch marketing to 35-plus demographic.
Succinct prologue establishes teens Mark (Alex Beck) and Sara (Shannon Floyd) as not quite lovers, but much more than friends, in 1972 Grosse Pointe, Mich. Alas, Mark’s family moves to New Orleans.
Twenty-five years later, grown-up Mark (Donovan) fortuitously discovers he was wrong to assume Sara never answered the many letters he sent her. Indeed, he finds that his disapproving mother (Brooke Adams) actually intercepted his missives, and hers, to sabotage their relationship.
Unfortunately, it’s a little late for reconciliation: He’s married with two children in New Orleans, while grown-up Sara (Lynch) has a husband (Michael Arata) — and a rebellious teen daughter (Siri Baruc) — back in Grosse Point.
Like most other romantic pics of its kind, however, “At Last” makes the adulterers sympathetic, by providing the leads with unworthy spouses. Mark is married to Laura (Jessica Hecht) a tightly-wound, professionally ambitious psychiatrist with a frosty demeanor and an incipient drinking problem. Sara’s husband is an even heavier boozer — and a lousy father to boot.
So it comes as absolutely no surprise that, when Sara accepts Mark’s invitation for a brief New Orleans vacation, the old acquaintances don’t remain strictly platonic for very long.
Working from a script he co-wrote with wife and co-producer Sandi Russell, helmer Tom Anton relies heavily on the considerable charms of New Orleans locales — especially the French Quarter and the Garden District — to burnish the romantic glow of the sentimental drama. “At Last” was completed long before last year’s devastation by Hurricane Katrina. Ironically, though, it’s hard not to wince when Sara casually queries: “The whole place is below sea level, right?”
Pic generates enough good will to allow for smooth sledding over a bumpy plot contrivance — filmmakers never really explain why Mark’s mother held on to the revealing letters rather than simply destroying them. Anton and Russell reportedly based their screenplay on their real-life experiences, which may explain why even some of the borderline-cornball stretches feel infused with emotional truth.
It also helps that Donovan and Kelly are so affecting while playing basically decent people who want to do the right thing. As Earl, Mark’s ne’er-do-well artist brother, Gainey gleefully steals scenes while serving as an improbably reliable voice of reason.
Use of Cyndi Lauper’s rendition of classic title tune midway through pic is a nice touch.