Although too few movies take into account the rich lives of the elderly—unless those elderly are actors trying to pass as action heroes—that doesn't fully excuse a movie as cloying and predictable as Elsa & Fred. Manuel Alexandre and China Zorrilla star as unattached neighbors who take turns inadvertently insulting each other, then develop a grudging friendship that turns into a tentative romance. She's a brassy matron who speaks her mind, craves adventure, and models herself after Anita Ekberg. He's a timid soul who clings to his routine and his medication, and sums up his late wife in one word: "tidy." Will they overcome their differences and find happiness together before either the end credits roll or one of them croaks? Do you even need to ask?
Writer-director Marcos Carnevale keeps Elsa & Fred breezy and light—even with the specter of death hovering over his leads—but the absence of bite prevents the movie from leaving any kind of impression. Well, that and the way Carnevale and his screenwriting partners Lily Ann Martin and Marcela Guerty try to get laughs out of Alexandre's flatulent dog, or from Zorrilla's fumbling attempt to appreciate abstract painting. ("It's art because there's nothing to understand," she mutters, making a joke that hasn't been funny in about 50 years.) A few moments in Elsa & Fred ring true: Carnevale takes the time to show Alexandre's breakfast menu of pills and coffee, and to catch Zorrilla struggling to her feet in the morning to get into her shower. And the movie's climactic recreation of Ekberg's fountain scene from Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita is sweetly moving, though Fellini's own Intervista has already riffed on that scene with aging actors. But it's hard to overlook how much of Elsa & Fred is rote and pre-chewed. At one point, Zorrilla actually says to Alexandre, "You're not afraid of dying, you're afraid of living." Ye gods.