All Is Not Lost

By Natalie Gee | Comedy
An elderly man gets revenge on a rival in a nursing home.

Calvin is a resident at a senior living facility dealing with early-onset Alzheimer’s. He’s also dealing with the rules and difficult personalities that come with being part of a community, complete with obnoxious frenemies and outright rivals.

But with the help of his equally nonconformist caregiver Claire, Calvin manages to squeeze in some fun and zest into his life, even as he grapples with his sense of loss and limitation.

Written and directed by Natalie Gee, this quirky, warm-hearted dramedy takes on the weighty subjects of aging, illness and mortality with a sure-handed lightness of touch and a charming sense of mischief, showing one cantankerous man’s embrace of life even as he confronts his encroaching loss. There are touches of Wes Anderson in the commingling of melancholy and irony, but the film is saved from being too twee by being both clear-eyed and warm-hearted about the difficulties of getting older (but not necessarily wiser.)

The central subject of the film can be heavy, but the craftsmanship handles it with an abiding sense of whimsy that’s a pleasure to experience. The film is shot with a warm, bright sense of color and light and an eye for beautifully absurd detail, and it’s often a real visual treat to watch. And the buoyant storytelling takes its pace and cues from its main character’s antics, looping through almost episodic events with an energy somewhere between farce and screwball at times.

As the action hopscotches from one incident to the next, we are taken inside the world of Calvin’s nursing home. Lead actor Robert W. Smith embodies the full range of Calvin’s emotions, from the difficulty of accepting his Alzheimer’s to his escalating enmity with fellow resident Barney. Tadashi Mitsui as Barney is a riot to watch as the archenemy, and is clearly having a lot of fun with a broad, funny role. Both actors bring a lifetime of experience to their roles, making them rich and vibrant, and are joys to watch.

With an ear and eye for quirkiness — and a wry humor in the writing and directing — the storytelling has an open-minded, warmly generous spirit in capturing the seniors’ hijinks and foibles, whether it’s in the moments when Calvin confronts his mortality or in observing the unruly senior residents in the background of the action. Though they’re elderly and often don’t have the full use of their faculties, these seniors are still capable of a wide panorama of human emotions and impulses. And — as Calvin discovers both in himself and in others — many of us still will act like children when we’re challenged, no matter how old we get.

“All Is Not Lost” is a lot of fun, but it would be a mistake to confuse its charm for shallowness. No matter what the stage we’re at, there will always be the great pageantry of life in all of its richness, whether it’s a sidelong romantic crush, that annoying person lurking constantly in the margins of awareness or personal challenges and obstacles to overcome.

Through its exuberance and celebration of the eccentric, “All Is Not Lost” seems to posit that the great joy of it all isn’t just the happy or fun moments. Instead, it’s the crazy, mad boisterousness of everything, and the unexpected gifts of even difficult situations… like how our greatest enemy can bring us roaring back to life, if only to finally throw something in his face to shut him up for good.

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