In the tradition of British films like “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” Richard Loncraine’s “Finding Your Feet” celebrates some quirky old folks changing their lives in their twilight years even as the unavoidable realities of aging press in on them. Loncraine and a fine cast work hard to breathe life into Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft’s formulaic script, but the film is not terribly effective in generating either laughter or tears.
Imelda Staunton stars as Sandra, the socially-conscious wife of retiring police commissioner Mike Abbott (John Sessions), exulting in her new status as Lady Abbott at a posh party in his honor. It’s during the festivities that she discovers him in a very compromising position with one of her supposed friends, Pamela (Josie Lawrence), opens up on him in front of all the guests, and flees their Surrey home.
With nowhere else to go, Sandra decamps to the apartment of her estranged sister Bif (Celia Imrie), a bohemian type with distinctly proletarian proclivities, in a lower-class area of London. Though they haven’t seen one another in a decade and Sandra’s snooty airs are a definite put-off, Bif welcomes her as best she can, though her friend Charlie (Timothy Spall), a handyman who drives a doddering van, views Sandra with barely disguised ridicule.
To try to lift her sister’s spirits, Bif insists that Sandra come with her to her seniors’ dance club, where Charlie and his widower chum Ted (David Hayman), as well as tart-tongued lawyer Jackie (Joanna Lumley) also take to the floor. (Lumley, though underused, delivers the one line of dialogue people are likely to remember.) It turns out that as a child Sandra was a dancer of considerable skill, and though she’d given it up when she married, it doesn’t take her long to acclimate.
Nor can she long retain her uppity ways, especially after she receives divorce papers and begins feeling much more friendly toward good-natured Charlie. He, however, is keeping a secret from her about his wife Lilly (Sian Thomas).
Integrated with the romantic plot is a more theatrical one. The dance club becomes famous as a result of a viral video of their spontaneous performance among Christmas revelers in Piccadilly Square, and they are invited to perform at a festival in Rome, which requires a good deal of preparation and brings everybody closer. This rather unlikely plot turn allows for some lovely location footage shot in the Eternal City as the oldsters play tourist.
By this time, however, things are getting so serious between Sandra and Charlie that they can’t help but face an obstacle, especially after Mike realizes the foolishness of his ways and asks her to come back to him. Even worse, the specter of death, which has already struck down one of Bif’s gentlemen callers, strikes even closer to home—not once, but twice. Will Sandra return to her sheltered, stuffy life as Mike’s wife, or will she take the proverbial leap of faith and start anew? A final freeze-frame provides an extremely literal answer.
There’s an old-fashioned feel to “Finding Your Feet,” and the very predictability of the narrative, along with the mixture of gentle comedy and weepy drama, will probably endear it to more mature audiences, making it especially appropriate for the Sunday matinee trade. It’s also hard to resist troopers like Staunton, Imrie, Spall, Lumley and Hayman, even when the material forces Staunton to come on awfully strong, especially in the opening scenes. But Loncraine brings an old pro’s touch to the story, and the various craft contributions—from Jon Bunker’s production design and John Pardue’s cinematography to Jill Taylor’s costumes, Johnny Daukes’ editing and Michael J. McEvoy’s perky score—are fine. Special kudos are due the choreographers, who manage to conceal the obvious fact that some of the cast do not seem especially adept on the dance floor.
All the talent involved, however, can’t conceal the fact that “Finding Your Feet” is basically old wine in new bottles, as it were—an oft-told tale of a second act in life that’s just not different or sprightly enough to overcome its utter familiarity. At least “Hotel” had Jaipur (as well as Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy), and Staunton, Spall and Imrie, along with a stopover in Rome, don’t quite measure up to that.