Drama Releases: Senior Love Triangle (2019) - Reviewed

Films that are based on true stories often need to strike a delicate balance between how much fact to include, and what to fictionalize to create a more cohesive narrative. Although it may feel dishonest to stray too far from a true story, creating an impactful and emotionally resonant narrative often involves fictionalizing some elements, or recontextualizing others to create a compelling plot. This could be problematic when dealing with historical events, however translating a slice of life story to film allows directors and writers more freedom to experiment with different elements. What is added to the bones of the story could make or break the narrative.

Senior Love Triangle falls into the category of films that suffered from what was fictionalized around the true events. This film was based on the New York Times photo series of the same name that documented the relationship of William, Jeanie and Adina, three seniors who formed an unusual relationship together. They all live in separate retirement communities but meet up to spend every day together. These images aim to capture what aging looks like, and the way the elderly are often disconnected from society. The film is very true to the source material, as Isadora Kosofsky, the photographer for the New York Times series, wrote the script along with director Kelly Blatz using notes taken during her time with the trio. Photographs from the series are referenced directly to set up shots and scenes, and quotes from the trio are used directly in the script, creating a faithfulness to source material that served as a detriment to the final product. 

In the film, Will (Tom Bower) is working on a Jamaica deal that he swears will allow him to buy a mansion for himself and Adina (Anna Gee Byrd) after being kicked out of his retirement home for failure to pay rent. When he moves into a new apartment, Will meets Jeanie (Marylin Mason), a resident in the new building. The trio is rocky at the start, but eventually they all become used to the situation and start to bond. This brings about the moments of the film that are genuinely delightful. When Adina and Jeanie first meet, they eat breakfast while making catty comments at each other, creating a light, humorous and heart felt scene. Later, Adina and Jeanie walk and talk about their lives while Will tails behind in a scene that is genuinely heartfelt. 

However, Will is an entirely unappealing character as portrayed in the film. He is erratic, jumping between extreme emotions. He creates much of the conflict throughout the film through this behavior which, although common in older men, doesn’t generate the same feeling of connection that comes through in the photography. The photography shows people at the end of their lives clinging to each other through hard times, while the film shows Will clinging to anything but the women. Will seems to adore and encourage them in one moment, and the next he will chastise and berate them. The warm companionship that is present in certain moments in overshadowed by Will’s nastier tenancies and delusions that drive the plot. Although these elements are present in the photo series, when translated into film those moments became the main emotional crux of the narrative, whereas in the photos the relationship took center stage. 

This is a story that, although emotional in its truth, strays from the central theme that made the photo series emotionally resonant. I did not feel that weight of age and dying while watching this movie. Instead the movie seemed to develop into areas exploring Will’s own deteriorating psyche in such a way that detracted from the relationship the trio had formed. Although elements of conflict between the trio are present in the photography, they are overwhelming in the film to the point of almost vilifying Will, and portraying Adina and Jeanie as his victims. What could have been an emotionally resonant story about finding love in your 80s turns into something more twisted, although closer to reality. 

--Patrick Bernas