Fred Won’t Move Out: Elliott Gould Wrangles with Death
Somewhere in New England, an old, upper-middle-class Jewish woman is dying of Alzheimer’s. She can barely talk, but the approach of her death sends out concentric circles of emotion—sadness, frustration, the occasional moment of gallows humor—that form the texture of this small film.
Her husband, Fred (Elliott Gould), is increasingly cranky and absentminded and, like the title suggests, doesn’t want to move to a retirement home. The two grown-up children, a man struggling in the movie business and a woman with ostentatiously long hair who works as a psychotherapist, muddle through the situation, paying obligatory visits to their dying mom and trying to talk their dad into moving.
The children, for all their outward gestures of filial piety—the obligatory smiles, the self-consciously patient tones of voice—seem like the kind of egotistical shits you wouldn’t want to be stuck next to at a dinner party. As the son says to the father, as he’s trying to convince him to move out: “I’d like you to try and think of us as your family-slash-image consultants.” With kids like that, maybe Alzheimer’s isn’t so bad after all.
If you have a hankering to watch well-off people negotiate their feelings about death, Fred Won’t Move Out is your ticket to happiness. It has long, loving shots of flower beds and kitchen countertops, as well as realistically circuitous dialogue. The film was partially improvised during a three-week shoot in a home that director Richard Ledes’s parents had recently vacated, which adds another layer of solipsism to the endeavor.
The film’s most interesting characters are the psychotherapist’s little girl (who just wants to play in the barn and the woods) and the African caretaker (who is negotiating the emotions of the situation, but also just doing a job). What does this situation look like through their eyes? That would be a more promising film.