I confess that, as a man well on the road to decrepitude, the thought that a charming, beautiful and much younger woman – say, Katie Holmes – might fall for me is an appealing fantasy. If ever I reach Sir Patrick Stewart’s age, even the thought would seem to approach delectable delirium. (He turns 80 this month, I should be so lucky!)
In Life with Music, (directed by Claude Lalonde, screenplay by Louis Godbout) Stewart plays Sir Henry Cole – a renowned classical pianist, whose nerve seems to be failing even as his physical abilities hold good.
A tedious post-concert press conference is redeemed by the presence of Helen Morrison (Holmes), a smart, beautiful and charming writer from the New Yorker. Far from immune to her charm, he nevertheless declines her request for an in-depth interview.
Morrison is persistent without being irritating. When she comes to his rescue after he freezes in front of a small group of onlookers while trying out a new piano, Cole relents.
A friendship forms; one that is welcomed by Sir Henry’s agent, Paul (Giancarlo Esposito), who has his eye fixed firmly on the prize – a concert at the Royal Albert Hall which will simultaneously be streamed around the world. As Paul puts it to Helen, this will be an ‘exclamation point’ in Henry’s career.
Henry is a kindly and generous man, inviting a young fan, an aspiring pianist, out onto the stage to play the concert piano after one show in Boston. He is, however, increasingly fearful of facing an audience. He freezes again – this time mid-Chopin in front of a packed concert hall. Paul calls Helen, who rushes to the rescue.
By this point, the friendship between writer and pianist is teetering on the brink of becoming an intimate relationship (fear not, you will witness nothing beyond a parting kiss).
When Helen accepts Henry’s invitation to travel with him to Europe, it appears he may not only conquer his fears, but also begin to heal from the tragic sudden loss of his wife in Prague (a story we are told, not shown).
Life with Music has a lot going for it. A soundtrack founded on the work of the great German composers – Bach, Schumann, Beethoven – with smatterings of Chopin, Liszt and others mixed in along the way, can scarcely lose. Stewart, Holmes and Esposito are all highly watchable. Add to that some spectacular scenery, and you would seem to be onto a sure-fire winner.
Sadly, however, the realisation diminishes rather than augments the concept’s potential. The problem is almost entirely with the script. Is this the tale of a great artist struggling with a crisis of confidence (and/or the decline of his powers due to age)? Or is it, primarily, an age-gap romance (and all-but 40 years is quite an age gap!)?
I’m all for gentle stories, lovingly told, but too much here is in the minor key, instead of tapping their feet to the rhythm, an audience will sense the dragging of heels.
Conventions are introduced but not explored – Sir Henry has a single surreal dream leading to a piano with missing keys; later, he encounters his hero, Beethoven, who seems busy re-enacting Caspar David Friedrich’s famous Romantic painting, “Wanderer above a sea of fog”.
The dialogue is often too philosophical and contemplative – as if difficult emotions have already been fully comprehended and resolved. Dramatically-speaking Holmes’s character is almost literally an angel – having no purpose, no goal of her own, other than to rescue Sir Henry. Even Clarence, in It’s a Wonderful Life, had his own agenda.
It might be argued that the essence of art is to present old and familiar things in new and surprising ways. So, whilst there’s much to be said for age-gap relationships (between proper grown-ups like these) why – since this is the 21st century and several of the greatest living classical pianists are women – couldn’t we have had an older woman being charmed by a younger man?
“A true artist is expected to be all that is noble-minded, and this is not altogether a mistake; on the other hand, however, in what a mean way are critics allowed to pounce upon us.” (Ludwig van Beethoven).
Well, maybe so…★ ★ ★
Digital Download Release Date: 27 July 2020
Director: Claude Lalonde
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Katie Holmes, Giancarlo Esposito
Distributor: Blue Finch Film Releasing
Digital Platforms: iTunes, Amazon, Google, Sky, Virgin, Rakuten and Chili
Runtime: 96 mins