Upon the death of her husband, Claire (Marilou Mermans) decides to reconnect with her estranged son, down and out R&B musician Sid (Jan Van Looveren). She asks him to help her restart the old girl group she used to sing in with two of her friends from the old days. The rebel son is hesitant at first but eventually agrees under one condition: the band has to play his music.
Despite its sweet intentions, The Over the Hill Band is simply too self conscious to succeed in the quirky 'groovy grannies’ genre. Mining ground that was better explored in the documentaries Young at Heart (2007) and Been Rich All My Life (2006) and the Helen Mirren vehicle Calendar Girls (2003), this Belgian dramedy creaks and groans through the 'recapturing your youth’ clichés before reaching an unconvincing bummer of a third act.
Director Geoffrey Enthoven explored the marginalisation of the elderly in his 2006 film The Only One, a more harsh and realistic take on the same themes he sugarcoats in The Over The Hill Band. When seen as companion pieces, this later work appears one-dimensional, even condescending, to its three key 70-something protagonists. The director’s overall aim may have been to restore dignity to the lives of his ageing characters, but his methods – like having them awkwardly rap to Technotronic’s 'Pump Up The Jam’ or, most distastefully, having one prudish spinster achieve a long-overdue orgasm by sitting on an amp and watching a sexy black bass player – seem a tad off-kilter.
The story centres on the uncertain future of the recently-widowed Claire (Marilou Mermans), a bookish but likable woman whose life had been defined by her late husband. Once the member of an all-girl singing trio, along with Magda (Lea Couzin) and Lutgard (Lut Tomsin), Claire shrugs off her grief and sets about reuniting the group by enlisting the dubious production talents of her unlikeable, boorish son, Sid (Jan Van Looveren), to help guide them to stardom and provide for his future.
It’s a set-up that requires a light touch and deft characterisations but Enthoven plods, heavy-handedly, through the tropes. It’s not until the midway point that the ladies come before a microphone; and there are interminable scenes of Claire trying to convince Sid, Magda and Lutgard that getting the band back together 'just might work". Enthoven takes the easy option too often, like when Claire smokes a joint and learns to drive (yawn), or a small group of followers sit in on the sessions and nod their heads when the ladies start shuffling some dance moves. The mostly male support players are equally rote, made up of such caricatures as the grey-haired lothario (Michel Israel) and the well-meaning but straitlaced son (Lucas van den Eynde).
By the third act, when a senile dementia subplot takes hold, the feel-good finale the film has alluded to all along seems impossible. But Enthoven does conceive of it, however misguidedly. The crowd-pleasing moments are subverted by Claire’s reality; it’s a bleakly brutal emotional downer (hinted at throughout by DP Gerd Schelfhout’s dour photography) on which to end a musical fantasy. It also negates the saccharine nature of the set-up, ultimately allowing the film to obtain an air of pointlessness.