Gosh, I wanted to like “Still Mine.” Who knew that it would frustrate and even anger me so much as I watched it squander its acting talent on a threadbare, tone-deaf, just plain boring fable about Man vs. Bureaucracy? The press notes suggest that the movie is based on a true story; apologies to the people it’s based on, who have to be more interesting than their onscreen doppelgangers.
James Cromwell plays Craig, a stalwart Canadian farmer who’s supposed to be 87, though the actor was really closer to 70 when the movie was shot. So was his perennially underused co-star, Geneviève Bujold, as Irene, his wife of 60-plus years, who descends (decoratively, when the plot requires) into dementia. Full disclosure: my own mother suffers from that disease. Even without that personal connection, I would still find the movie’s fraudulence pretty smelly.
Living on 2,000 acres and surviving, it seems, by selling the occasional strawberry crop, Craig and Irene are longtime back-to-the-land proponents. When Irene gets forgetful, starts burning things on the stove and tumbles down the staircase, Craig decides they need a smaller house. So he starts constructing one by hand elsewhere on their property. Unfortunately, he doesn’t fill out all the paperwork and get permits from what is here called the Building Department. So he gets into trouble. Repeatedly.
You know what? I happen to think there are reasons why governments around the world, the good ones anyway, have created standards and rules for construction safety. Because, you know, things don’t collapse and kill you so easily if you build them properly. But “Still Mine” spends most of its time carping about Big Bad Government — instead of, say, developing the relationship between Craig and Irene, or their children. Seven children are mentioned; two appear onscreen as tepid characters who, before they wander away, mutter things along the lines of Um, Dad, you’re old and stuff, and we worry about you.
Cromwell is always a solid actor. Check out “Babe” (his Oscar nomination), then “L.A. Confidential” if you want to get a sense of his range. Bujold herself was Oscar-nominated playing Henry VIII’s ill-fated bride in “Anne of the Thousand Days,” but she hasn’t had much luck in mainstream film since. She was piquant playing sexual sophisticates in both “Dead Ringers” and “Last Night.” She’s too old for that stuff anymore, but she certainly has more to offer than what this screenplay (by writer-director Michael McGowan) gives her.
It’s almost cruel, at the end, when the movie includes two scenes that are actually good. In one, Cromwell breaks down silently at a funeral; we understand that his emotion has nothing to do with the man being mourned. The other scene presents an imagined, semi-telepathic conversation between Craig and Irene as they prepare for sleep, she in her hospital room, he back at their homestead. Too little too late.
I think “Still Mine” is meant to be a celebration of a rugged individualist. But as we watch Craig refuse help from friends and family and ignore, on principle, the law of the land, it comes across as a fawning portrait of a class-A jerk.