You can’t fight Father Time, but James Cromwell tries to—while also battling local building authorities—in Still Mine, a based-on-real-life tale of maudlin melodrama. In New Brunswick, Canada, Cromwell’s farmer is faced with a crisis: His wife, Geneviève Bujold, is slowly succumbing to Alzheimer’s. Despite the urgings of his children to get her more help, the stubborn Cromwell instead chooses to handle it on his own, which primarily takes the form of erecting a more accessible and accommodating one-level home for her across the street on some of his 2,000-plus acres of land. Trouble is, Cromwell wants to complete this project by himself (as his father taught him), even when an unreasonably contentious local building agent clearly explains to him that various permits and approvals are required for such construction. At first merely disinterested in complying, and later incapable of fully rectifying the edifice’s 26 violations, Cromwell decides to simply move forward with his plans, picking a fight as a means of both standing up for his own independence and vitality and as a way to express his anger and frustration at his wife’s slow demise—a destiny that, no matter his efforts, he can’t halt.
Writer-director Michael McGowan goes to great lengths to posit Cromwell as a man of still-formidable strength of mind and body, be it on the farm, at the building site, or shirtless and in bed with Bujold. That Cromwell appears far too stout to be 87 years old undercuts the authenticity of Still Mine, but no more so than general plotting that never puts Cromwell’s fate in serious doubt. Unlike Sarah Polley’s similarly themed, far superior Away From Her, Still Mine addresses the messy tragedy of old age only up to a point, initially confronting the horror and misery of watching a loved one fade away into mental confusion and emptiness but then retreating to safer triumph-over-adversity terrain when things get too unpleasant. Cromwell delivers his defiantly gruff dialogue with amusing relish, while still grounding his protagonist’s actions in desperation and desolation. And his nostalgic conversations with Bujold while the two lay in bed have a naturalness that almost overshadows the creakiness of the surrounding material. Unfortunately, McGowan’s film doesn’t want to get its hands dirty, which winds up making its portrait of cruel twilight-years realities—and the enduring power of love to see one through those difficulties—as easily digestible as its lush rural panoramas are picturesque.