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There comes a time when every celebrated actor is called upon to play the adorable, misbehaving old coot. That date has apparently arrived for Vanessa Redgrave, Imelda Staunton, Brenda Fricker and Joss Ackland, who knock off codger roles in “How About You … ” with hammy brio. This adapted story by Irish literary populist Maeve Binchy co-stars Hayley Atwell as a youthful staffer stuck minding four obnoxious residents during an Irish luxury rest home’s Christmas holidays. Comedic and sentimental beats are as predictable as the storytelling is sloppy. Nonetheless, this rare formulaic crowdpleaser likely will draw older audiences in most English-language territories.

Young widow Kate (Orla Brady) is the harried owner/manager of an elder-care facility housed in a beautiful old County Wicklow mansion. Despite the pristine rural setting, however, there’s plenty of discord, especially from four cranky, demanding tenants.

There’s Georgia (Redgrave), a flamboyant ex-showgirl with a major martini habit, and willfully boorish retired judge Donald (Ackland). Quarrelsome yet inseparable sisters Hazel (Staunton) and Heather (Fricker) aren’t really old enough to be here, but have led such sheltered lives that, after their mother died, they moved in to continue avoiding the outside world.

Turning up unannounced is Kate’s younger sibling, Ellie (Atwell), who needs cash and expects long-suffering sis to provide temporary employment. They frequently clash, Kate being a humorless workaholic, while university dropout Ellie has a history of irresponsibility. But the arrangement squeaks by, Ellie even striking up a friendship with Alice (the late Joan O’Hara, to whom pic is dedicated), a frail resident at the tail end of her “charmed life.”

When Yuletide approaches, nearly all staff and inhabitants leave to spend the holidays elsewhere. All except the impossible four, who’ve either alienated or outlived anyone who’d have them as guests. A crisis in Kate’s own family forces her to leave the inexperienced Ellie in charge. This turn of events occurs about halfway through, bringing some situational focus to hitherto meandering and fragmentary progress.

Ellie’s charges at first treat her like 24-hour room service, but when she has finally had enough, they actually make an effort to get along. Inhibition-loosening alcohol, revelations of personal tragedy, and plain old Christmas spirit do the rest.

There’s little subtlety displayed or required in this predictable warming of curmudgeonly hearts. But one could wish some of the care put into pic’s attractive widescreen images had been expended on its haphazard storytelling, which is alternately digressive and evasive; there’s a particularly odd “scene missing” stretch when Ellie breaks up with a b.f. Continuity curiosities likewise abound — seasons seem to change from scene to scene.

Still, auds in the mood for a feel-good pic with familiar faces will likely overlook such flaws to enjoy the cranky comedics and warm-‘n’-fuzzies that arrive on cue. Helmer Anthony Byrne (“Short Order”) nails the desired overall tone of Richard Curtis-style sugarplum dramedy, even if, in script and editorial terms, “How About You … ” is far from fine-tuned. Veteran thesps deliver duly colorful turns, though the weakish material doesn’t help them create any indelible characters.

Physical production is first-rate, with a confectionary look achieved by lenser Des Whelan, production designer Tom McCullough and the gorgeous locations used. Niall Byrne’s score lays it on thick whenever the soundtrack isn’t making extensive use of mostly pre-rock oldies like the titular Tin Pan Alley standard.

How About You …


  • Production: A Strand Releasing (in U.S.) release of a Ferndale Films presentation, in association with Bankside Films and Head Gear Films. (International sales: Bankside Films, London.) Produced by Noel Pearson, Sarah Radclyffe. Executive producers, Bill Godfrey, Paul Brett, Tim Smith. Directed by Anthony Byrne. Screenplay, Jean Pasley, adapted from the short story "The Hardcore" by Maeve Binchy.
  • Crew: Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Des Whelan; editor, Emma E. Hickox; music, Niall Byrne; production designer, Tom McCulloch; art director, Brendan Rankin; set decorator, Jenny Oman; costume designer, Hazel Webb-Crozier; sound (Dolby Digital), Ray Cross; assistant director, Kevan Barker; casting, Nuala Moiselle, Frank Moiselle. Reviewed at Mill Valley Film Festival (World Cinema), Oct. 10, 2008. Running time: 91 MIN.
  • With: Ellie Harris - Hayley Atwell Georgia Platts - Vanessa Redgrave Donald Vanston - Joss Ackland Heather Nightingale - Brenda Fricker Hazel Nightingale - Imelda Staunton Kate Harris - Orla Brady Alice Peterson - Joan O'Hara
  • Music By: