Familiarity breeds contempt—albeit a mild strain—in How About You, a genteel UK serio-comedy about colorful-but-difficult old folks, in the vein of squishy crowd-pleasers like Calendar Girls and Venus. Hayley Atwell plays a headstrong but rootless young woman who asks her sister Orla Brady if she can crash at the family-owned retirement home for a while, then ends up in charge when Brady is called away over the Christmas holiday. Stuck babysitting four cantankerous residents—Vanessa Redgrave, Imelda Staunton, Brenda Fricker, and Joss Ackland—Atwell decides to ditch the detached professionalism her sister prizes and instead treat her charges as one big dysfunctional family, forcing everyone to engage with each other and appreciate the yuletide. Rowdiness, reconciliation, and renewal ensue.
Director Anthony Byrne keeps the story moving apace, and he's helped considerably by a cast that knows how to invest clichés with real humanity. Still, nothing in How About You is the least bit surprising; the film hits its marks with dreary precision. It begins with Atwell looking hapless, regularly scolded by Brady. It introduces the impossible oldsters, who drink and swear and snipe in ways meant to be loveably comic. Then, through the careful application of tough love and naughtiness—including the requisite pot-smoking—everything turns around, and Brady comes to see that Atwell isn't such a loser after all. Throw in a wall-to-wall soundtrack of lilting woodwinds and an "Adapted from a short story by Maeve Binchy" credit, and arthouse bookings follow, like mildew on a wet carpet.