Hooray for the idea of this movie, a complicated and totally relatable portrait of a faux-grandmotherly relationship between elderly widow Mrs. Palfrey (Joan Plowright) and dashing young writer Ludo (Rupert Friend). She moves from Scotland to London's shabby Claremont retirement hotel to be closer to her grandson, only he doesn't return her phone calls. Worse, she's embarrassed when the assorted hotel oddballs begin to doubt his existence. Fate intervenes when she falls on the sidewalk outside Ludo's apartment, and—sleek locks flying—he rushes to her rescue. Never mind the 50-year age gap; they soon bond to fill a mutual void of family and friendship in their lives. Mrs. Palfrey needs a stand-in grandson; Ludo needs a muse for his literary work in progress. It's a perfect solution for them, even if SIFF co-founder Dan Ireland's third feature doesn't mesh quite so convincingly for viewers. (He'll appear at Friday and Saturday's 7 and 9:45 p.m. shows.)
In their first scene together, Friend (also in The Libertine) digs through Plowright's skirts to blow slowly, gently on her scraped knee, which leads to a close-up of his young, supple lips next to her liver-spotted joint. Later, Friend bares his chest to write after Plowright leaves from a night of being serenaded in front of a crackling fire. Their relationship is meant to be quite proper and asexual, but I couldn't evict from my mind the niggling Harold and Maude shadow of creepy May-December romance. Plus, Friend's character is too charming, too syrupy sweet and gracious, to seem an authentic 26-year-old. (Indeed, he's the creation of a 1971 novel set even farther back in a politer England.)
Still, Plowright's Palfrey is superb, a witty rock of wisdom. And the meddlesome Claremont residents put a welcome, softly laid comic touch on the movie's mortal themes of aging and independence. I predict a busy senior matinee crowd for this one.