Pitched to the weekday-matinee crowd, the insipid British retirement-age comedy Finding Your Feet doesn’t have much to recommend it apart from its grossly overqualified cast, led by Imelda Staunton and Timothy Spall. The former stars as Sandra, a sixtyish high-society housewife who gets roped into a dance class for single seniors after leaving her cheating husband and moving in with her kooky, estranged older sister, Bif (Celia Imrie). The setup is straight out of a sitcom pilot, the characterizations broad, the results unsurprising: reawakened joie de vivre, a stiff upper lip relaxed via contact high, and an unlikely late-in-life romance, which comes by way of Bif’s grumbly, pot-smoking fix-it man and occasional dance partner, Charlie (Spall), who lives on a barge. Rarely has an apparently sappy movie faced its heroine with bleaker options: old age alone or love with the stoner bargeman.
But no man ends up living in a riverboat without a good reason, and Charlie’s is predictably sentimental: His wife has late-stage Alzheimer’s, and he’s sold his house to pay for her care. The fact that this detail is kept from Sandra for much of Finding Your Feet—leading her to presume that Charlie is a widower—might count as contrived conflict, if the movie itself weren’t totally indifferent to plot, pacing (it’s about 30 minutes too long), and tone. Like the senior dance medley that serves as its unspectacular climax, it missteps nonsensically from one event to the next, trying different styles and never wearing them well. One moment, it’s musty farce, with Bif as the hippie and Sandra as the impossible conservative snob, living together in a messy apartment in public housing. (The British term, “council estate,” really does sound so much fancier.) The next, it’s a mediocre homage to the chastely repressed romances of classic film. And then comes an invitation for the dance class—who become viral video stars in a dubious plot development the movie barely bothers to dramatize—to perform in Rome, at which point Finding Your Feet truly comes into its own as a third-rate Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Director Richard Loncraine (Wimbledon, Firewall, and, once upon a time, Richard III) isn’t one to rise above a bad script, and this one is a mess, peppered with cloying twists, expired pop culture references (the Ice Bucket Challenge, “Gangnam Style,” and the Harlem Shake), and wild changes in character personality. His maladroit direction turns a few elementary sight gags into mysteries that the viewer is expected to solve, and does no favors to the apathetically choreographed dance numbers. (One would never guess, from the evidence presented here, that Staunton began her career as a musical theater star.) But even as the movie fumbles and flounders around them, the cast emerges unscathed—especially Stall, an actor who could have beaten the late Walter Matthau in a stink-eye contest, and rarely gets to play cute. Here, it’s hard not to agree with the movie: Old people really do deserve better.