Directed by: #BarbaraElbinger
Written by: #BarbaraElbinger
As someone whose own parents recently retired, Barbara Elbinger’s humorous take on life after retirement has been a source of great amusement to me. For her directorial debut, Elbinger takes the usual clichés of retirement – the boredom, the loss of identity and the discovery of weird and wonderful new hobbies – and cranks them up to 11 in her 17-minute-long examination of life after work.
Recent retiree, Fred (Edmund Dehn), whiles away his twilight years wrapped in a blanket, obsessively taking – as his wife, Doreen (Eileen Nicholas), would say – “homoeopathetic” remedies. He’s clearly at a loss for how to spend his free time and his marriage, and mental health, are suffering for it. That is until he finds a flyer for a rather...peculiar therapy group.
To say You Need Help’s cast of characters are a little eccentric would be about as big an understatement as one could make. There’s an eclectic mix of characters to be found here: from Fred - in his quest to reconnect with fun; Bertie (Seb Craig) - an elderly gent Fred befriends at his therapy group; to Gregg (Alex McMorran) - the therapy group leader, whose qualifications are questionable at best. And then, to balance things out, there’s Doreen with her straight-laced demeanour. All the characters here are well-thought-out and well-written, with brilliantly incisive and witty dialogue, but which also carries heart. But it’s Nicholas’ performance that stood out for me: her stony-faced front is the perfect contrast to the zany shenanigans going on around her. Indeed, the sense of embarrassment that exudes from Doreen is palpable.
If you were going to assign a genre to You Need Help, you might call it a comedic-drama. And it’s one that could quite easily have descended into the realms of the forgetful farce. But Elbinger never allows it to. With her sharp, heartfelt and intellectually solid writing, she instead focusses on keeping the humour as low-key as possible. And by utilising understatement, Elbinger entrusts the viewer to find the film’s humour by reading between the lines.
There’s actually something very melancholic and understated about the way the film presents itself, humour included. Seeing a dejected man sat at his wife’s bedside, dressed as a mime, is as tragic as it is hilarious. But, of course, it’s that underlying theme of reclaiming one’s inner child; one’s youth that holds the emotional clout here. And it has quite the clout!
Aesthetically, You Need Help couldn’t be more perfect: David Bensimon’s brilliant musical accompaniment ripples through the movie, intensifying the warm and fuzzy feeling it gives you. And Annette Remler’s cinematography – particularly in regards to the superlative, mood-purveying lighting – is simply some of the best I’ve seen all year. Upon reading the blurb, I feel it would be easy to dismiss You Need Help as ‘just another comedy’ about old age. But doing so would be a great disservice to the filmmakers. You Need Help is a fantastic piece of work, one that’s as funny as it is tragic; one that’s capable of wrenching the heart and warming it in equal measure. As a directional debut, this excites me very much: Barbara Elbinger has a promising career ahead of her.