Starring: James Cromwell, Geneviève Bujold, Chuck Shamata
Rated: PG-13, for some thematic elements and brief sensuality/partial nudity
Runtime: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Bottom line: An impeccable, loveable drama
Writer/director Michael McGowan’s “Still Mine” is part of a growing trend in independent cinema, films made for mature audiences.
Major studios have virtually abandoned moviegoers older than 50, but this understated, powerful drama comes in the wake of recent indie successes “Quartet” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” Like those movies, “Still Mine” reaffirms the vitality of an age group often written off.
James Cromwell has built such an amazing career as a character actor it’s hard to believe “Still Mine” is his first starring role. Cromwell plays Craig, a fiercely independent farmer in his late 80s who wants to build a more suitable house for his wife Irene (Geneviève Bujold), whose health is fading.
This simple goal turns into a battle against bureaucracy when the local building inspector becomes aware Craig is not following the usual permitting and inspection process. The situation escalates until Craig may face jail time just when Irene needs him most.
Based on a true story, “Still Mine” is a Canadian movie, but many Americans will see themselves in it.
It isn’t Craig wants to break the law, it just never occurred to him that he shouldn’t build the house himself. Any DIYer, regardless of age, will understand, but Craig’s work ethic is characteristic of his generation.
Craig still cuts down trees with a chainsaw and planes the wood. He still farms his own land. Irene still gardens, although the vegetables are now in raised beds. Anyone who grew up in rural North America knows people like Craig and Irene, and I don’t mind saying theirs is an ethos I personally share and respect.
But now, Craig is dealing with a world changing in ways he can’t understand — and he isn’t alone.
Early on, Craig and a hired hand pick enough strawberries to fill the bed of his truck. Craig takes them directly to the mill. But now the mill only buys berries from growers who transport their produce in refrigerated trucks.
This regulation is emblematic of the myriad ways independent family farmers are being shut out of the agriculture industry by policies favoring factory farms. We are witnessing the real extinction of an American way of life, and that is a genuine tragedy.
“Still Mine” makes a handful of statements about government bureaucracy and over-regulation, occasionally steering the film toward the political. At one point, Craig pointedly asks, “When did we become a country of bureaucrats?”
But even when making valid points, the movie is best when it sticks to the personal. Thankfully, McGowan focuses mostly on Craig’s quest to finish the house.
The house becomes symbolic of many things. For Irene, it’s a symbol of mortality. It will prevent her from having to move to a nursing home. But when it is finished and they have to move into it, it means the end is a little closer. Craig is aware of what it means for Irene, but for him it’s just the opposite. Building this house is proof of Craig’s vitality. For each of them, the process of building the house is more meaningful than the house itself.
Cromwell and Bujold give pitch perfect performances. What could have become a sentimental sobfest instead feels authentic and thus takes on greater meaning.
Craig isn’t exactly Santiago from “The Old Man and the Sea” and this movie isn’t on par with Hemingway. But there is something almost mythical about a man striving to build a final dwelling for the love of his life and having to overcome petty, worldly antagonists to do so.
“Still Mine” exalts the value of self-sufficiency while reminding us of the importance of family and community. It is a thoroughly endearing film not only because Craig and Irene are so very much in love, but because those are the very values many people fear we are losing.
Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.