Fall is awards season, when studios begin to market and promote films for our consideration in numerous categories. Part of this process involves trying to get screeners before critics as close as possible to the dates on which they will nominate or vote for said films. That jockeying for position means, for me, a glut of films in November and a trickle earlier and later.
Edie is the sort of film that gets lost or buried under and avalanche of content, and that’s too bad. Were it the product of a bigger studio, it would probably garner more attention for Sheila Hancock, a veteran British actress with over one hundred credits on her filmography and two BAFTA nominations. (The film was released theatrically in the United States earlier this month; the 2017 date reflects its international release on the festival circuit.)
This is an actor’s showcase for Hancock. Thematically, there are plenty of films about the elderly raging against the dying of the light by taking on one last challenge. That the challenge involves some arduous hiking makes the most obvious analogue Emilio Estevez’s The Way. Edie is not as satisfying as that film, primarily because the hike doesn’t have the same religious meanings built into it. The main character’s struggles are more psychological than spiritual.
But it is still interesting in that regard. Edie’s husband passes away within the first three minutes of the film, but those minutes are crucial to understanding the intensity with which the widow resists settling into assisted-care living and pushes to attain a personal goal. Edie has lived a life of deferrals, waiting until it is perhaps too late to even ask the question of what she might do if choices were available to her. Her trek up the mountain is less of an unrealized goal than it is a symbol of her lifelong repression of self.
The writing and photography feel somewhat conventional. (The veins of a leaf are juxtaposed against the veins on the back of Edie’s hand.) What is less conventional is that Edie is represented as a complex mix of emotion rather than as a flat character. Most of the time, the elderly are represented in movies as flatly cranky or sweetly charming. Edie has an undercurrent of anger in her sadness, but Hancock is wise enough to never show us too much of her in any one glance. Years of hiding what she actually thinks and feels have atrophied the muscles of self-expression.
Those more attuned to commercial cinema might spend the film waiting for Edie to melt into likableness. It’s to the film’s credit that while she changes as a result of her experience and the people she meets on it, she doesn’t transform into the opposite of what she once was. In that sense, the film’s ambitions are modest, but it succeeds in accomplishing them.