There's a fine line that artists walk when creating deeply personal works. On the one side of that line are works that retain significance to the individual while presenting the material in a manner that is widely relatable. On the other side are works that lack objectivity, and are too specific or particular for most to connect with.
When I think of this latter group, I always think of much of John Lennon's post-Beatles solo work. The constant references to Yoko Ono made it impossible for anyone to attach their own personal meaning.
In Fred Won't Move Out, writer/director Richard Ledes at times straddles this line, but for the most part manages to stay in the first group. Fred stars Elliot Gould in the title role as an aging father battling the onset of Alzheimer's. He lives with his wife Susan, a decrepit woman with a full-fledged form of the disease, and their live-in caretaker, Victoria. The couple's children, Bob (played by Fred Melamed - immediately recognizable from A Serious Man) and Carol, have made the decision that Susan will be moved into a home in a week's time. After Fred, who is unsure on his feet, takes a frightening fall, the children have the unenviable task of informing him that they believe he needs to move into a home as well.
Fred Won't Move Out is an admittedly modest film that borders on minimalistic. With a thin run-time of 75 minutes, we're given but a quick glimpse into the lives of these people.
The bulk off the film takes place on two different days, yet Ledes manages to show us the man Fred used to be and the reasons why he's no longer that person. Fred stares blankly while at a desk where significant work once took place, reminds us of the mind that once was through impressive literary recitations, and shares some loving moments (and some frustrating ones as well) with his ailing wife. Yet Fred has significant trouble moving around and cannot remember that his beloved cat is long since gone.
Played with honesty and sincerity by Gould, Fred's resistance to move isn't as much a display of stubbornness as it is the understandable realization that agreeing to move is a relinquishing of independence and an admittance of defeat. The decision to urge him to move is the right decision, but it's not an easy one.
There is a lot of handheld camera work here, which provides certain scenes with a sense of intimacy while proving to be a significant distraction in others. The standout example of the distracting type is a scene in which all the characters are singing together at a musical therapy session. The constantly moving camera gets way too close to the characters, and the insistence on pulling different things in and out of focus makes it difficult to focus on anything.
There are also a couple of odd side characters that feel misused. In a cameo that seems to serve no purpose other than being the basis for a worthy punchline, Ledes appears as a jogger. The scene looks like a conversation in a commercial. And a sequence with the musical therapy teacher, who along with Victoria show the impact of the situation on people other than family members, lingers for too long. Near the end of this sequence are a couple of tonally jarring moments due to some oddly chosen music. The film contains very little music, so this was very noticeable.
For me, the lynchpin of the film is Lila, Carol's daugher and Fred's grandaughter whom he lovingly refers to as "the Captian." Lila is filled with questions, yet seems to grasp the situation. It's sad that, at times, the look of innocence in Fred's eyes seems to mirror that in Lila's. In a moment that might seem insignificant, Lila embraces her grandmother when she cannot remember the tea parties the two used to have. It's the single most heartbreaking moment in the whole film.
Although understated and not without its flaws, Fred Won't Move Out ultimately succeeds in its genuine portrayal of a delicate, difficult and frustrating situation. It obviously hits close to home for Ledes, but it's a subject that many people will relate with. And those that can't personally relate with at the very least appreciate what a difficult decision this is, hoping that they will never be forced to make it themselves.
Look for Fred Won't Move Out opens at the Laemmle Fallbrook this Friday.
View the trailer and other promotional material at www.fredwontmoveout.com