Thursday, August 13, 2015

Movie Night - The Last of the Blonde Bombshells

A couple of weeks ago a friend visited and shared her HBO-Go login with me, which was very kind of her*. Mainly, we spent our time watching Veep, because why wouldn't you? But later I started to explore other shows and movies I wasn't able to see elsewhere. And that's how I found out about The Last of of the Blonde Bombshells starring Dame Judi Dench, whom I adore. It also has Olympia Dukakis and Ian Holm. What's not to love?

We meet Elizabeth at her husband's funeral. She's a woman recently unmoored from the role of wife and mother, and who finally feels free to explore her own interests again, much to the chagrin of her children who've only ever known her as "mum."

Her granddaughter finds her in the attic playing a tenor sax. (And playing it well, I might add.) And thus we learn of Elizabeth's former life. When she was 15, long before marriage and children, she played in the almost-all-girl wartime band The Blonde Bombshells.

Looking for an outlet for her music, she starts playing alongside a busker, where her children discover her one day and try to "talk some sense" into her. They are appalled, and try to appeal to her sense of dignity, asking her "what would the neighbors think?" Of course, she's having none of it. She's quite happy to continue.

Fortunately, Elizabeth is also discovered by Patrick, the former drummer (in a dress) and playboy of the band. He becomes her "fancy man," and together they revisit the old club where they played (now a carpet business), and reminisce about the good old days and what fun they had playing in the band.

It's touching and a bit inspiring to watch Elizabeth's transformation. As someone solidly in "middle age" myself, it's heartening to know that old age isn't necessarily a time of decline. It can be a time of renewal or even reinvention.

While her children still cannot seem to wrap their minds around the changes, her good-hearted granddaughter sees Elizabeth's improved emotional state and suggests they try to reassemble the band to play her school dance.

The fun of the movie is in their trying to locate the different members all of whom have gone in very different directions after the war. It's genuinely enjoyable to watch these women in the autumn of their lives, all of whom are still quite vibrant and hale, reunite and tell wonderful stories about their time together, and their times apart.

Several have continues playing music, each in their own way -- cabaret, church band, etc. Others, like Elizabeth, have been keeping their past as a kind of secret. It didn't have any affect on her life as a wife and mother, and no one ever asked about it. This is why it's such a shock to her children. They've imagined their mother as one thing, and now they're being forced to recognize that she was a person before she was their mother. She's pretty shocked by it herself, frankly.
"But you can't understand because I don't understand myself. I remember about feelings. I remember playing in the band in the Metropole Ballroom, 'Mairzy Dotes and Dozy Dotes,' and knowing at any minute a large bomb could fall on my head and blow us all to hell and back. And the house rule said you had to finish the tune before you went to the air raid shelter. And that, my children, is how you learn about real feelings. I was more alive at the time than before or since. That's an alarming thing to discover at my age. I don't understand it. I don't expect you to."

Of course there's also a romance brewing between Elizabeth and Patrick. And not simply because he's trying to "complete the set" by seducing every woman in the band (ew!), but because they are finally on equal footing. As a 15 year old in the band, she was too young to understand her attraction to him wasn't appropriate for a couple of reasons, not the least of which was the age difference. They were both two completely different people back then. Now, after a lifetime of being unhappily married, Elizabeth is strong enough to demand respect. And Patrick is adult enough to give it. Usually. He still has some growing to do, it seems.

This is a gem of a movie, and I'm sad I only heard about it recently. Seeing these amazing women playing these complicated and fascinating women living their golden years filled with such passion and bravery is a wonderful way to spend a few hours. We need many more stories like this!

*I don't advocate using someone else's HBO-Go login. That's stealing. Stealing is bad.

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