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The Over the Hill Band

A son's struggle to survive in the music biz prompts his 70-year-old mother and two of her gray-haired gal pals to take up singing again.

With:
With: Jan Van Looveren, Marilou Mermans, Lut Tomsin, Lea Couzin, Lucas Van den Eynden, Michel Israel, Barbara Sarafian, Jurgen Delnaet. (Dutch, French dialogue)

A son’s struggle to survive in the music biz prompts his 70-year-old mother and two of her gray-haired gal pals to take up singing again in “The Over the Hill Band.” Despite a strong finale, this overly formulaic crowdpleaser by Flemish helmer Geoffrey Enthoven never quite reaches the poignancy or hilarity of recent docu “Young at Heart,” which also showcased singers handling unusual material while edging ever closer to their swan songs. Local Aug. 19 release should do OK biz in the mold of helmer Lieven Debrauwer’s work, while Montreal will kick off a modest tour of the fest circuit.

At her husband’s funeral, prim widow Claire (Marilou Mermans, “Sweet Jam”) is comforted by her two childhood friends, the pious Lutgard (Lut Tomsin) and more jocular Magda (Lea Couzin). Half a century earlier, they performed together as a trio, the Sisters of Love, a fact Claire’s boorish 39-year-old son, Alexander (Jan Van Looveren), had all but forgotten. Himself a struggling musician and producer, Alexander — who prefers to be called Sid — complains that neither his parents nor his successful older brother (Lucas Van den Eynden) ever took an interest in him.

A few days after the funeral, Claire knocks on Sid’s door for the first time in 15 years. Before you can say “predictable plot twist,” she has convinced her son he’s the right man to bring back the Sisters of Love after a 50-year hiatus. Too far behind on his rent to turn down any offer involving money, Sid accepts on one condition: The Sisters’ repertoire will solely consist of “his kind of music.”

The resulting playlist ranges from Eurohouse anthem “Pump Up the Jam” to a pimped-out version of Wallace Collection’s “Daydream.” Along the way, Claire and Sid grow predictably closer.

Substituting beats for boobs, the pic is the Flemish counterpart of Brit hit “Calendar Girls,” though it doesn’t extract nearly as much effortless fun (or drama) from the sight of older people trying to do things normally reserved for folks less than half their age.

The weakness of the screenplay is something of a surprise, as it was co-written by producer Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem, arguably the most important person in Flemish cinema, responsible for the current wave of quality B.O. hits. His scripts (“Moscow, Belgium,” “A Perfect Match”) typically transform an often simple, almost trivial premise into something memorable by carefully etching in the finer character traits of his protags.

Such detail is lacking in “The Over the Hill Band,” and Enthoven, who did impressive work with his actors in “Happy Together,” is unable to work the same magic with the lineup of TV vets employed here. No performance is off-key, but none of the thesps quite outgrows his or her one-line character description.

Gerd Schelfhout’s digital lensing suffers only occasional loss of detail in the brightest areas and generously employs Steadicam shots; colors are subdued, almost bleak. Editing is functional for the most part and outstanding in the final scenes at a talent contest, with Philippe Ravoet’s crosscutting yielding a bittersweet finale that gives the film a bigger emotional payoff than it really deserves.

Dutch-language title simply means “Girls.”

The Over the Hill Band

Belgium

Production: A KFD release of an A Private View production, in association with Artemis Prods., Happy Endings, VMMA. Produced by Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem, Dries Phlypo. Co-producers, Patrick Quinet, An Rydant. Directed by Geoffrey Enthoven. Screenplay, Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem, Chris Caps.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Gerd Schelfhout; editor, Philippe Ravoet; music, Stef Caers, Pascal Garnier; production designer, Steven Liegeois; costume designer, Tine Verbeurgt; sound (Dolby Digital); Dan van Bever; assistant director, Sabrina Haazen; casting, Sara De Vries-Vinck. Reviewed at Vendome, Brussels, Aug. 19, 2009. (In Montreal World Film Festival -- Focus on World Cinema.) Running time: 93 MIN.

With: With: Jan Van Looveren, Marilou Mermans, Lut Tomsin, Lea Couzin, Lucas Van den Eynden, Michel Israel, Barbara Sarafian, Jurgen Delnaet. (Dutch, French dialogue)

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