By Preston Wilder
Let the record show that The Love Punch, an unapologetically lame comedy starring Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson, bases one of its jokes on Sally Field’s infamous acceptance speech (the one that goes “You like me, you really like me!”) at the 1984 Academy Awards. A reference to a 30-year-old Oscar speech: this film will do absolutely anything for a laugh. The main joke, however – the one that keeps recurring, the one the film is based on – is simple enough: older people are inherently uncool, ergo everything they do is automatically funny.
By ‘older’ we don’t mean old, of course. It would clearly be offensive to mock the deficiencies of people with Alzheimer’s. Go back a few years, however, and you hit the lucrative market known in Britain as the ‘grey pound’ (I assume we’d say ‘grey euro’), the folks in late middle age who haven’t quite made the leap to thinking of themselves as elderly. They live in a state of semi-denial, believing they can do all the things they did when they were younger, even though they realise deep down that this is no more than a comforting fiction. It’s a kind of tension, like the tension of teenagers – who live in a similar state of denial, only at the other end of the adult spectrum – that makes for easy comedy and also, more importantly, makes grey-pounders themselves flock to cinemas, so they can laugh at their foolishness.
Recent examples of the grey-pound genre include Last Vegas, Grudge Match and Stand Up Guys – though the most obvious model here is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, another case of grey-pound Brits going on an adventure to a foreign country. Admittedly, the Brits (Pierce and Emma) are younger here, inching cautiously into the tunnel that’ll lead (eventually) to doddery senility. She’s just become an empty-nester, sending her daughter off to uni with some good motherly advice: “Always wash your jeans inside out, if it looks swollen it probably is, and don’t put anything in your mouth that hasn’t been boiled!”. He’s on the verge of retirement and a life of golf – at least till he learns that the company’s new French owner has stripped all its assets, which is where the adventure begins.
Pierce goes to Emma, his ex-wife, to discuss the company’s bankruptcy (corporate lawyers are so 20th-century), then they head off to Paris to confront the nasty Frenchman. Emma is initially reluctant. “No, no, no. Absolutely not!” she declares when the idea of crossing the Channel is mooted – and we instantly cut to the Arc de Triomphe, the kind of hoary old chestnut the film delights in. Other ancient gags brought out of mothballs for the occasion include the Parisian concierge with a Pepe Le Pew accent going on about l’amour, the Parisian hotel with many floors and no elevator, the loud brash Texan millionaire (Pierce gets to impersonate one, a joke that dates all the way back to Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk), and the maladroit drunken waiter who used to be played by Graham Stark in the Pink Panther movies.
But the main joke – the film’s raison d’etre – is the one about older people being uncool, made even funnier (in theory) when they have to do cool things like pull off a daring heist. Not once but twice, director Joel Hopkins has his heroes (aided and abetted by another grey-pound couple, played by Timothy Spall and Celia Imrie) strut in slow-motion to the sounds of a wicked song, only for the scene to be undercut as reality bites. The second time, the song is ‘I Fought the Law’ and they’re strutting through a hotel lobby – then there’s a record-scratch on the soundtrack and the Tarantino effect dissipates as Celia says “Sorry, I’m dying for a pee”, then Emma goes off for a pee and Pierce goes off for a pee and they all go off for a pee. Because they’re old, geddit?
The Love Punch is a terrible film: laboured, unsubtle, full of cringe-inducing jokes – yet there’s also an unselfconscious glee to the film that’s hard to hate. It’s like older people wearing ugly shorts in garish colours when they go to the beach. You may wish they wouldn’t – but they’ve worked hard, they’ve earned the right to let it all hang out, and ultimately they don’t really care what you think.
For the audience whose everyday talk is of prostate checks, bunions and the tricky process of using the internet, The Love Punch has the wheezy charm of an old friend – and of course you’ve got Pierce and Emma, two excellent actors (watch her tell her daughter “You’re lovely” and expertly choke back a sob on the word ‘lovely’) who, like the film, appear to be game for anything. We have nothing to lose, shrugs Pierce at one point; “Apart from our dignity,” counters Emma with a touch of asperity. Sorry, love, that ship has sailed.
DIRECTED BY: Joel Hopkins
STARRING: Pierce Brosnan, Emma Thompson, Timothy Spall