SXSW Film Review: Late Bloomers

The kindness of strangers creates beauty, growth, and laughs

Courtesy of We're All Late Bloomers LLC / Credit: John de Menil

What the hell is a 28-year-old Brooklyn woman – unemployed, with little purpose in life, still desperately heart-locked on the guy who dumped her – going to do but get runaway drunk and, awkwardly stalking, break her hip?

Just that, it turns out, which is what lands our protagonist Louise (Karen Gillan) in the hospital and, after some bone-invasive surgery, in physical rehab with a diverse group of women more than twice her age. By this point she’s met Antonina (Malgorzata Zajaczkowska), an elderly Polish woman who speaks no English but gets her deep oppositional fuck-you fluently across to everyone, especially Louise. This odd-couple encounter’s supercharged when, after a painstaking but misguided kindness from Louise, our self-defined loser of a girl is hired to be Antonina’s caretaker.

To say “shenanigans ensue” would be an insult to this sweetly rendered narrative, even though the film is promoted as a comedy, because those shenanigans are solidly of the kind where it’s funny because it’s true. The truth of taking care of someone aging into physical dependence and mental uncertainty is as fraught as it is, intermittently and helplessly, hilarious – especially when the one in need starts off as a defiant stranger it’s impossible to communicate with.

The one in need, though? The old lady’s in much greater need, yes, but it’s our perpetually at-loose-ends Louise who also needs a boost – out of aimless wallowing and into a more fulfilling adulthood – and this is part of what caring for her elderly charge eventually provides. Gillan is wonderful as Louise, all emotionally tattered and torn and striving, against her own deep inertia, to be a boon and a proper friend, her pretty face believably crumpling in overabundance of sorrow, brightening when trying to front delight that she can never fully grasp.

Equally, Zajaczkowska’s Antonina is a beautifully realized portrait of what years and infirmity can wreak upon a woman who has little engagement with a world that seems determined to abandon her, her rare smiles a revelation as the story progresses toward its hope-bright ending. Jermaine Fowler, as Louise’s platonic roommate and residential benefactor, is a ridiculously handsome and charming trust-fund stoner, an excellent foil for our beleaguered heroine’s personality and plight; the brief, well-intentioned and ludicrous attempt-at-fucking scene between them should be required viewing in all high school sex-ed classes.

Anna Greenfield’s script, though the dialogue is occasionally tainted by colors a bit too close to sitcom hues, steers clear of cliché while deftly attending familiar tropes that would occur in any human tale of complex need and redemption. Director Lisa Steen brings these rich characters and their struggles to life onscreen with a confident style and – yes, considering her wise, delicate handling of what could’ve been so often easily botched – grace. It’s a grace that radiates from and throughout the film itself, a welcome balm in this too frequently heart-rending world.

Late Bloomers

Narrative Feature Competition, World Premiere

Mon 13, 2:45pm, Alamo South Lamar A
Thu 16, 12:15pm, Zach Theatre

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