'How About You': A Fantastic Foursome, At Odds

'The Hard Core' from 'How About You' i

Four cantankerous residents, known as the Hard Core, run amok at a retirement home while a young stand-in is in charge for the holidays. From left: Brenda Fricker as Heather, Joss Ackland as Donald, Imelda Staunton as Hazel, Hayley Atwell as Ellie and Vanessa Redgrave as Georgia. Strand Releasing hide caption

itoggle caption Strand Releasing
'The Hard Core' from 'How About You'

Four cantankerous residents, known as the Hard Core, run amok at a retirement home while a young stand-in is in charge for the holidays. From left: Brenda Fricker as Heather, Joss Ackland as Donald, Imelda Staunton as Hazel, Hayley Atwell as Ellie and Vanessa Redgrave as Georgia.

Strand Releasing

How About You?

  • Director: Anthony Byrne
  • Genre: Drama, Comedy
  • Running Time: 100 minutes

This film is not yet rated.

Vanessa Redgrave as Georgia and Haylee Atwell as Ellie i

Old tricks: Georgia (Vanessa Redgrave) neatly sidesteps rules Ellie (Hayley Atwell) puts in place, while other residents can't be left alone for fear of food fights. Strand Releasing hide caption

itoggle caption Strand Releasing
Vanessa Redgrave as Georgia and Haylee Atwell as Ellie

Old tricks: Georgia (Vanessa Redgrave) neatly sidesteps rules Ellie (Hayley Atwell) puts in place, while other residents can't be left alone for fear of food fights.

Strand Releasing

The retirement home staff calls them the Hard Core, those four cantankerous coots who live on the second floor and are forever spoiling for a fight, but they turn out to be better company than you might expect in the amiable Irish dramedy How About You.

It helps, of course, that the quarrelling quartet are played by stars of a certain luminosity — Vanessa Redgrave as a martini-swilling chorus girl gone elegantly and obstreperously gray, Joss Ackland as a grumpily retired judge with alcohol and anger issues, and Brenda Fricker and Imelda Staunton as bickering middle-aged sisters who aren't really old enough to be ensconced in an old-age home, but who have, for reasons of their own, checked out of the outside world a few years early.

Each and every one is a handful, and they're in gutsy geriatric overdrive when the rest home's proprietor is called away by a plot contrivance for the Christmas holidays.

She leaves them in the care of her compassionate but inexperienced (and significantly less patient) sister Ellie (Hayley Atwell), who not unreasonably bridles at being treated as if she were 24-hour room service — the Hard Core likes to wake her at 3:30 a.m. to mix cocktails and again at 5:30 a.m. to make soft-boiled eggs.

But with these curmudgeonly codgers you lay down the law at your peril. When Ellie sets rules, Redgrave's aging chanteuse promptly goes AWOL to play diva at a local bar. The others? They can't be trusted to have a quiet lunch without plates of food being flung at dining-room walls.

Still, the younger generation can be resourceful, and even alienated geezers can show evidence of having good hearts. And when all else fails, hashish-laced cookies can smooth over rough patches.

Based on a short story by popular Irish novelist Maeve Binchy, How About You's screen incarnation is a bit abrupt about its mood-changing revelations and a bit sketchy about its put-out-to-pasture characters. But it's a warmly engaging romp nonetheless.

Director Anthony Byrne makes the Irish countryside lushly attractive, and if he can't always finesse Jean Pasley's predictable screenplay, he can at least get out of the way when one of his stars rises to the occasion of a set-piece moment.

Watch Redgrave's eyes when she catches her reflection in a mirror and whispers "I keep forgetting I'm old"; note Ackland's posture when he decides to reclaim his dignity after a food fight.

Or listen to the wistful delicacy with which a dying eldercare patient (Joan O'Hara) speaks to Ellie of seeing everything clearly just when you're about to move on (a speech lent poignancy by the fact that O'Hara herself died shortly after shooting wrapped).

The material is familiar way past the point of cliche, but these folks are thoroughbreds — and they, if not the material, are irresistible as they treat this charmer of a family film like a victory lap.

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