For a film as ostensibly bouncy as “Finding Your Feet,” there’s an awful lot of death in it. That’s no bad thing. As Richard Loncraine’s good-natured golden-years comedy zips through zero weddings and a couple of funerals, the light pressure of mortality on proceedings gives an otherwise silly, sentimental affair a glancing connection with real life and its limits: It’s the kind of feelgood cinema that at least pays lip service to other feelings. Starring Imelda Staunton as a wronged society wife forced to drop her airs and gain some oxygen when she moves in with her freewheeling boho sister (a sparkling Celia Imrie), “Feet” rests pleasantly enough on its mild Sunday-lunch charms and the unstrained gifts of a tony ensemble: Sure to be forever bound to “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” via “if you like this” algorithms, it has its own, more grounded appeal.
The film’s U.K. distributor, Entertainment One, unsurprisingly modeled the film’s marketing and release strategy on “Best Exotic” right down to its late-February opening, though “Finding Your Feet” coined less than half the 2012 sleeper’s gray-pound gross in its opening weekend. Equivalent word-of-mouth phenomenon status may not be on the cards — always unlikely without the platinum marquee appeal of a Judi Dench or a Maggie Smith — but Loncraine’s film should settle into a comfortable retirement in ancillary and streaming.
For Loncraine, “Finding Your Feet” at least finds him on more comfortable ground than his last attempt at engaging the senior sector, 2014’s strangely joyless Diane Keaton-Morgan Freeman combo “5 Flights Up” — though it remains something of a mystery what happened to the gutsy formalist behind 1995’s singular “Richard III” update. Still, “Finding Your Feet” has more visual pep and polish than most more televisual Britcoms of its ilk, thanks to John Pardue’s smooth lensing — lending a lick of lacquer even to a fading London council estate — and some particularly perky choices on the part of costume designer Jill Taylor. Here’s the rare film that allows even Timothy Spall to brighten up the place in a floppy magenta homburg.
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Then again, it’s not every day that Spall gets to flex his muscles as a romantic lead. From the second his character Charlie, a cheery Cockney furniture restorer, brushes shoulders with haughty social climber Lady Sandra Abbott (Staunton), we know the thick, mustardy layer of instant antagonism between them isn’t long for this world: “Finding Your Feet” hits its romantic-comedy beats with an old-timer’s clockwork efficiency. Not that Sandra is easily brought out of the funk that followed her discovery of a years-long affair between her husband Mike (John Sessions) and one of her best friends.
Unable to face the social humiliation in her moneyed countryside community, she turns up at the shabby north London apartment of her estranged older sister Elizabeth, with the intention of drinking herself into a stupor. Elizabeth, a never-married misfit with a wide array of oddball friends and liberal causes, prescribes senior-citizens dancing classes instead, where Sandra and Charlie gradually find more than just a good waltzing rhythm together. It’s thanks more to Staunton’s honestly creased vulnerability as a performer than to the over-tidy reversals of Nick Moorcroft and Meg Leonard’s script that Sandra thaws as sympathetically as she does, since she’s a pretty bitter pill to be around for the first act: racist, classist and narcissistic in ways it generally takes more than a foxtrot to fix.
But “Finding Your Feet” has little time for staying put, or set in one’s ways: It’s a story that shows time to be of the essence in multiple ways, as its characters, all with their own hidden pockets of tragedy, frankly set about ensuring they don’t die angry, lonely or without ever having participated in a dance flashmob in Piccadilly Circus. (Hey, to each her own bucket list.) To quote Elizabeth’s sassy friend Jackie (a sadly underused Joanna Lumley), Sandra finds more to life as a free woman than a kept Lady, and this is a surprise to no one but herself — least of all the audience.
The modest rewards in “Finding Your Feet” are ones of sprightly human chemistry rather than great narrative discovery, of all-round good humor rather than outright hilarity. It’s easy to poke holes in its cozier aspects of Earl Grey fantasy, or its conservative conventionality right down to its final, unfashionable freeze-frame. Yet it’s harder to think of many other vehicles that would let Timothy Spall woo Imelda Staunton in his own shambling way, or allow Celia Imrie — a saltwater-taffy delight here, all spit-spot brightness and wisdom with a what-if undercurrent of sadness — to show us her moves as a no-strings seductress. If not now, when? That’s the driving rhetorical question behind most of this light silver bauble, and coming up with an answer would hardly be time well spent.