Feelings of restlessness simmer just underneath the skin of neighbors Addie Moore and Louis Waters. Each has suffered anguish from the loss of a long-time spouse. Both, are flawed characters with deep regrets, ripe for redemption.
Addie (Jane Fonda) steps from the shadows first, boldly inviting Louis (Robert Redford) to sleep with her – just as friends. She’s lonely and suspects he is too. “It’s about getting through the night,” she tells him.
As if pondering the purchase of a new set of tires, a startled Louis asks if he can think about it.
Thus begins the plot of Our Souls at Night, a movie lifted out of the ordinary by the chemistry of its stars and the strong universal desire for companionship.
The pitch-perfect Fonda from Klute and Julia, is back. Emotions ready to slip from a sharp tongue are held in check, this time, by the politics of age and tough lessons learned on the virtues of discretion.
Redford, the wizard of minimalism, provides a steady counterpoint to the extroverted Fonda. The upward tick of a skeptical eyebrow or nearly indiscernible tilt of the head will need to suffice as he struggles to respond to Addie. Not a stranger to stoicism, she accepts his reticence.
Both actors benefit from a nuanced script by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, (The Fault in Our Stars, 500 Days of Summer). Based on Kent Haruf’s novella of the same name, the screenplay slow cooks character and story inside the measured pace of life in small town Colorado.
After Louis’ boots wind up under Addie’s bed, reality serves up a host of obstacles that test the mettle and maturity of the nascent couple.
Addie’s son, Gene (the formidable Matthias Schoenaerts) and grandson, Jamie (Young Sheldon’s, Iain Armitage) arrive at Addie’s doorstep to muck up the works. Gene’s custom furniture business has eroded. His marriage is on life support. Refusing his mother’s arms-distance offer of financial assistance, he instead asks for a favor that cuts to the core of her already shaky maternal sensibilities. She’ll need to quickly decide if she’ll care for her grandson while Gene reorders his life.
The arrangement could deal a fatal blow to the relationship with Louis. Fonda’s ability to make the audience feel every bend of her character’s will is acutely felt here as Addie reluctantly agrees to the bargain.
Surprisingly undaunted by the reshuffled deck, Louis jumps into the role of problem-solver. This is, after all, a film about the hard work of second chances. In the process of prying open the eyes of Addie’s shell-shocked grandson to a new world of interesting horizons, the couple begins to reinvent themselves as better parents and partners.
The path to deliverance for the unlikely trio is slow as the universe continues to affirm its dominance over them.
Louis’ daughter, Holly, (Judy Greer) arrives to stir the pot of her father’s conscience. Despite the hard knocks she suffered as a result of his dalliances, she’s shifted the responsibility of healing on to herself. It’s a bittersweet, grounding moment for Louis, yet a painful reminder of his inadequacies.
Gene’s issues with alcohol soon take center stage, creating a game-changing decision by Addie to move away from Louis and into her son’s house. She can offer a steady hand, but the stakes in her own life are more pronounced. The relationship with Louis has progressed toward the romantic.
Director Ritesh Batra, (The Lunchbox) is a deft helmsman in familiar, heartfelt territory. For the first eighteen years of his life, he shared a room with his widowed grandfather, taking a ring-side seat to the non-lineal, endlessly painful process of grieving. In Our Souls at Night, he’s gifted those learnings to us, allowing us to witness two imperfect adults use hard-earned insight to navigate the complicated headwinds of life.