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Their Generation

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As someone who grew up listening to hip-hop and rock, I've sometimes wondered what it will be like to totter into the era of the first punk-rock grandparents. Will we scream things like "Turn up that racket!" to our grandchildren? Alas, the members of Young@Heart, a quarter-century-old traveling chorus, have beat their youngsters to the punch, and the verdict is in. If this new documentary about them is accurate, we're all doomed to look a little silly.

At least our generation will be more likely to enjoy the music. That's seldom the impression one gets from the Young@Heart group, especially when confronted with noisy numbers such as Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia" by their choir director, Bob Cilman. These 80- and 90-year-olds' tastes run more toward classical and show tunes than classic rock and Smashing Pumpkins. Fair enough, but then what are they doing rehearsing James Brown and Coldplay?

That question is posed during this cheery, poignant but often myopic and flimsy film, and the answer says a lot more about life than our youth-oriented culture often wants to face. Getting old can be lonely, tedious stuff. Who wouldn't rather be reciting songs, even ones that make you look ridiculous, than wasting away under a shawl? Singing anything, the participants overwhelmingly (and unsurprisingly) tell us, even late-period Rod Stewart, is better than the alternative.

The question "Why rock music?" is answered more thoroughly, and in a somewhat unseemly manner, between the scenes. Director Steve Walker -- whose enthusiasm often causes him to gloss over important details and dwell on inanity — tends to exacerbate the sideshow atmosphere exuded by the group. That's especially true when he interrupts the flow of his film with one of a few cheesy music videos. The songs selected for these embarrassingly choreographed interludes are always of the eye-rolling, obvious-irony variety, such as David Bowie's "Golden Years" and the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive." He doesn't seem to have a clue that we're all patronizing these poor older people — he especially.

As for the older performers, they bear up to their indignities with something that looks like inner strength. It could be pride, but I'm not sure. It might just be more of the survival instinct that's kept them going this long. If they'd made the movie, I'd say more power to them. But because it was some delusional wanker, this review must end on a bad note. (PG) 110 min. S



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