Proof that old radicals don't fade away they just grow feistier this wonderful documentary portrait observes two friends who first met in an old folks' home in sunny Los Angeles. Not just any home, mind you: Sunset Hall, founded in 1923, prides itself on being a "retirement home for freethinking elderly," providing care to those who dedicated themselves to furthering progressive social change. The library features the works of Lenin (the large-print editions, of course), "Free Mumia" signs hang around the leafy courtyard and the residents, many of whom attend the "Freethinkers meetings," are mostly retired social workers, activists, teachers, directors and artists. When filmmaker Laura Gabbert first arrived with her camera, Sunset Hall was home to 81-year-old Irja Lloyd, a retired special-ed teacher, and her 95-year-old pal, Lucille Alpert, a social worker with two degrees from the University of Chicago. Irja and Lucille met shortly after moving into Sunset Hall, and while they quickly became best friends, they couldn't be more different. Irja is the optimist with the proverbial glass-half-full outlook on life and a kind word for everyone around her. Lucille, on the other hand, is a clear-eyed some might say cranky realist with outsize wraparound shades, an even bulkier silver wig and little patience for the other residents' nonsense. Both women, however, have led fascinating lives, and continue to share a fierce commitment to social justice that still drives them to join picket lines and public demonstrations. The way they putter around Sunset Hall makes the dynamic of their friendship instantly clear: Lucille positions herself at the helm of Irja's wheelchair and, with one hand on her cane and the other on the handle of Irja's chair, moves them both while leaning on Irja. It's the perfect symbol for friends who complement each other to a T, but both realize the relationship is about to end. Although the wheelchair-bound Irja appears to be the frailer of the two, it's actually Lucille who's very sick; she's been diagnosed with esophageal cancer and doesn't have long to live. As the cancer spreads and eating becomes increasingly difficult, Lucille stops joining the other residents for meals and begins to withdraw from Irja, leaving her best friend to face the sad fact that soon she'll be alone. Aside from the women themselves, the most remarkable thing about Gabbert's unexpectedly entertaining film is how effortlessly it dispels common misconceptions about the elderly. Irja is as sharp as a tack and Lucille has a wickedly dry wit; spending 75 minutes in their excellent company is a rare privilege.
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- Released: 2005
- Rating: NR
- Review: Proof that old radicals don't fade away they just grow feistier this wonderful documentary portrait observes two friends who first met in an old folks' home in sunny Los Angeles. Not just any home, mind you: Sunset Hall, founded in 1923, prid… (more)