Nicholas Fackler may just be getting started as a feature director but he shows filmmaking savvy with his heartbreaking seniors romance Lovely, Still. The 26 year old Omaha-native displays dead-on casting choices with veteran leads Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn. He also partners with talented crew like cinematographer Sean Kirby (Zoo) and production designer Stephen Altman (Gosford Park) to make Lovely, Still, one of the year's lovelier American independent dramas. Like many new filmmakers, Fackler has plenty of room for improvement with regards to storytelling. Lovely, Still makes a dramatic shift and turns too solemn in its second half. Thankfully, for Thousand Oaks, CA-based distributor Monterey Media, Landau and Burstyn remain compelling throughout and will help generate positive word of mouth among older specialty film audiences when the film begins its platform release September 10 in New York.
Robert Malone (Landau) maintains an active but orderly schedule in his retirement, dividing time between his job bagging groceries at the local supermarket and taking care of his Omaha, Nebraska home. Everything changes when Robert comes home one evening and meets Mary (Burstyn), a new neighbor who confused Robert's house with her daughter Alex's (Elizabeth Banks). A sweet romance blossoms when Mary asks Robert on a date and they display an instant chemistry with each other. The elderly couple is happy until Robert turns anxious with the growing sense that he knows Mary from somewhere before.
Burstyn, last seen in the indie Loss of a Teardrop Diamond and in a recurring role on TV's Big Love, shines brightest in Lovely, Still. Her performance as an older woman still willing to work hard at a relationship is touching. Laundau, recently seen in City of Ember and normally so vibrant and alive, faces the difficult task of playing a character who dramatically changes personality by the film's end.
Elizabeth Banks and Adam Scott, best known for their comic roles, provide strong dramatic support as grown children trying to support their parents.
It may be too much to ask for a first-time feature filmmaker like Fackler to match the incredible talents of his veteran leads, Landau and Burstyn. He comes close on the technical side, working with cameraman Sean Kirby to make beautiful use of Omaha at Christmastime.
Production designer Stephen Altman, best known for the work he did for his father Robert Altman on Short Cuts, The Player and Gosford Park, brings alive Robert's modest home and simple lifestyle.
A veteran music video director, Fackler collaborates with Omaha musicians Nathaniel Walcott, Mike Mogis and Conor Oberst to create a shimmering score that makes great use of Christmas standards.
Older specialty audiences seeking out a serious take on a mature romance, instead of Hollywood slapstick comedies like It's Complicated and Something's Gotta Give, will applaud the pairing of Landau and Burstyn.
Unfortunately, after audiences have grown attached to the elderly lovers. Fackler pulls out the rug from under them and tilts the story in a dark and solemn direction. Worse yet, the climactic revelations aren't surprising.
Produced by Parts and Labor & North Sea Films and distributed by Monterey Media after playing festivals in 2008, Lovely, Still may disappoint some audiences with its second-half heartbreak. Still, there's no denying the joy in watching Burstyn and Landau act together. Partnerships with the social and public policy group The Creative Coalition, AARP and Home Instead Senior Care will help generate awareness among the film's target audience.
For Fackler, Lovely, Still remains an impressive first step towards another directing project. With his ample skills behind the camera, imagine what he can do once he improves his storytelling skills.
Distributor: Monterey Media
Director: Nicholas Fackler
Cast: Martin Landau, Ellen Burstyn, Elizabeth Banks, Adam Scott and Kali Cook
Screenwriter: Nicholas Fackler
Producer: Dana Altman, Lars Knudsen, James Lawler, Jack Turner and Jay Van Hoy
Rating: PG for thematic material, mild language and brief smoking.
Running Time: 92 min
Release Date: September 10 NY, September 17 LA