25 January Ageism is not an easy subject for a filmmaker to tackle. Any film with an axe to grind runs the risk of seeming preachy, whilst the premise of a crusty old man befriending an impressionable teenager smacks of sentimentality. Yet director Michael Shroeder manages to avoid both pitfalls, creating a film that is thoughtful without being too worthy, and moving without being saccharine.
Christopher Plummer stars as Flash; a retired Hollywood gaffer with a bad temper and a drinking problem. Plummer manages to imbue the cantankerous old man with real charm and likeability. It is a poignant and highly nuanced performance of a deeply troubled film veteran who grudgingly befriends a novice.
Shroeder is brave enough to people a film about a retired and forgotten Hollywood crew with a cast of retired (and largely forgotten) Hollywood actors. M. Emmet Walsh plays a mistreated ex-screenwriter, creating a tragic glimpse into the phenomenon of nursing-home neglect. Former child star Michael Angarano more than holds his own amongst this experienced cast, and is convincingly gauche as Cameron, the teenage would-be director that enlists Flash’s help.
It is the growing bond between these two that forms the emotional core of the film; Shroeder’s writing is eminently believable, and Plummer and Angarano have real chemistry. Shroeder only disappoints when he fails to trust in the power of the leisurely narrative and attempts to jazz things up. The flashy camera work that has become his signature can be forgiven, but the school-yard scenes fail to convince. Man in the Chair does not need such references to youth culture to be attractive to all ages; the powerful script and sterling cast are more than enough.
by Emma Whipday