Last night, I attended my first virtual book club meeting. Despite being a massive book person, I’ve never actually been part of a book club before. So, to attend my first one on Zoom wasn’t great. I’m awkward and introverted at the best of times without adding being uncomfortable on camera as well. But, of course, it was mostly fine. I’d read the book in time and, as you’ll have read in my book review on Monday, I really loved the book. I knew before going in that it had been adapted into a film for Netflix but I didn’t want to watch it before reading. Fearing that it might alter my opinion of the book or something. Once I was finished, it seemed like the perfect choice for my TBT film this week. After all, any chance to watch Jane Fonda is something is welcome.
Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night is a quiet book. I know that’s a weird thing to say about a book but it’s the best way I can think of to describe it. The novel deals with the very ordinary story of two people falling in love during their twilight years. It is very unassuming and there is very little drama. It is just two people trying to find some sort of happiness in their everyday lives. The book uses minimal description and relies almost solely on the dialogue. So, yeah, it’s a quiet sort of book. And the film adaptation takes a leaf out of its book by being quiet. The soundtrack is minimal and simple and the direction is without embellishment. It’s not the kind of film that will appeal to everyone and it’s certainly not going to draw many people in based on its premise alone.
Our story starts one night when Addie asks her neighbour, Louis if he’ll sleep with her at night. Nothing racy you understand but just companionship. She wants someone to talk to in the dark and to hold their hand. Both Louis and Addie are widowers and they are both lonely. After an awkward start, they find comfort in sleeping next to each other at night. It’s a simple and fantastic opening. A seemingly simple act that sends shockwaves through their small town. But the couple becomes comfortable with each other. A comfort that gets a little complicated when Addie’s grandson turns up. Jamie is suffering thanks to his parent’s marriage problems. With a little encouragement from Addie and Louis, Jamie starts to become brighter and happier. But how long can it all last?
Our Souls at Night has an unfortunate name for multiple reasons. In Britain, it can cause much immature hilarity when said quickly. But, in a more general sense, it’s kind of a rubbish title. I really its meant to be this deep and meaningful thing about two people connecting and their souls being laid bare. The problem is, it just makes this film sound like the kind of awful schmaltz you’d see on Hallmark or something. Instead, this is a sweet and lovely story of two people trying to find something worth living for in their later years. About doing things that make them feel good. The film is such a great thing to watch and it definitely helps that Jane Fonda and Robert Redford are fantastically charming in their roles. Addie and Louis are as nervous and awkward as teenagers but you can slowly see their feelings grow. If this film doesn’t give you the warm fuzzies then nothing will.
The pair talk about their past during their sleepovers and the director steers clear from any big flashback scenes. Instead, as in the book, these moments are played out tenderly and intimately. Their nights together become a form of therapy where they can come to terms with their past with the help of someone willing to listen to them. They are open and honest with each other in a way that is really refreshing to see. It’s also something that both lead actors excel at. Their performances are so understated and careful that you’d think they weren’t actually acting at all. There are times when it genuinely looks like Robert Redford forgot that he was meant to be playing someone else and just hung out with Jane Fonda for a bit. It’s perfect to see two screen legends working together so beautifully.
A few people in the book club said that they kept expecting terrible things to happen in this story. That they were on edge waiting for everything to go wrong. I can see why they might feel like that because we’ve been force-fed drama and action for so long. Writers and filmmakers kept trying to fill their work with shocks and twists that it’s expected. So, a story like this feels even fresher and original. This isn’t a story that really sets out to entertain. Don’t get me wrong, it’s entertaining but it’s not meant to engage you in that sort of way. Instead, this is telling the very ordinary story of two very ordinary people. Haruf made a name for himself by making the everyday seem noteworthy. This film understands that people can be beautiful. That a simple connection to another human being is something worth treasuring and celebrating. It celebrates older generations and the idea that life doesn’t just stop. Our Souls at Night is a quiet film but it still makes an impact.