As they often say in the world of sports, “Father Time is undefeated.” This isn’t only true of athletes but of all human life. As people age, they often go through physical, mental, and emotional changes that reflect the person they’ve been and who they want to be moving forward. At some point, we were all just kids doing stupid things we may be embarrassed by, ashamed of, or simply just regret. Writer/director Guy Pigden clearly understands this as the basis of his newest film is set around things that people may not want to focus on or accept as they go through life. Even if the overall message is sometimes bogged down, Pigden’s film, Older, is a sobering look at relationships and love through the eyes of someone not quite ready to let go of his youth.
The plot centers on Alex (Pigden), a 29 year old failed screenwriter who moves back in with his parents and adopts a carefree, high school-esque lifestyle. While attending a friend’s wedding, Alex runs into Jenny (Liesha Ward Knox), an old high school friend who empathizes with Alex’s dissatisfaction with adulthood. The two begin a friendly romance that quickly turns into something more for Jenny. However, Alex is still hung up on his flaky longtime crush, Stephanie (Astra McLaren). Because of this, Alex must decide whether it’s time to finally grow up or hold on to his past which he’s refused to let go of to this point.
On paper, Older boasts a sound plot, relatable story, and a good overall message. Aging is something that everyone struggles with at some point and it’s not limited to a certain demographic. People struggle with identity and purpose at all ages especially when their situation changes. Alex quickly abandons his dream of being a filmmaker and resorts back to what he knows best which isn’t uncommon among people. Failure is a true fear but it’s never really the end. Where one road ends, another begins and that’s exactly what happens to Alex throughout Older. It’s a positive message and Pigden’s script does a good job of always providing that glimmer of hope for his characters.
That is, until it doesn’t. There are a lot of really good things about Older which we’ll get to shortly but it frequently gets in its own way when trying to tell a heartwarming story. Now, this is certainly by design but probably not to the desired results. Pigden tries, and sometimes succeeds, in relaying the story of a directionless man who eventually finds his purpose in life. The problem with that is, as a viewer, you never feel like the character of Alex deserves the chances that he gets. As the main character, the audience is supposed to root for Alex but there are many times where he’s just so unlikable given his actions. Throughout the film, he’s going back and forth between a woman who genuinely cares for him in Jenny and another who only likes the attention from him sometimes in Stephanie. It’s difficult to have any sympathy for Alex because of this which is a huge problem for a lead character to overcome. There’s also an inexplicable event that occurs to try giving him more sympathy from the audience but it’s so out of the blue and mostly irrelevant to the story that it’s mostly forgettable.
None of this is to say that Pigden’s performance is the problem. He’s actually very good in the role. As Alex, Pigden brings a directionless, self-serving, man-child to life and does so with a lot of charm. The character’s actions and the story being told through him makes Alex somewhat despicable but Pigden’s performance keeps him from being unbearable. Charismatic performance aside, it’s still tough to fully like this character given his actions though. In this regard, it’s a good thing that Liesha Ward Knox is so good as Alex’s consolation prize, Jenny. Knox has that sweet “girl-next-door” appeal whereas Astra McLaren plays the “bombshell” role as Stephanie. The shallow minded Alex always goes crawling back to Stephanie while Knox’s Jenny becomes increasingly heartbroken as she realizes her place in Alex’s pecking order. In a film like this, you’re supposed to root for the main character but here the only logical person to root for is Jenny. She deserves better than Alex but, unfortunately, viewers are made to watch her constant suffering instead of seeing her come out on top. Despite all of this, these characters are properly fleshed out and performed very well.
While there are certainly issues with the script and overall storytelling, there aren’t really any technical problems with Older. Pigden crafts a very professional independent film from start to finish. Everything looks and sounds fantastic. There’s some good original music from Michael Caradus and a handful of songs from Freddy Fudd Pucker that are used effectively. The shot composition and camerawork is also very good. A lot of indie flicks have technical flaws with bad editing, cuts, sound popping, and/or volume issues but none of that is present here. It’s actually quite a relief to see such a well made film like this.
Yet, we keep coming back to the protagonist and story. Despite a charming performance from Pigden, it’s just so hard to fully like Alex because of his actions. He doesn’t fit the mold of a typical protagonist which, frankly, could be kind of interesting. Here though, it’s irritating because he just doesn’t really deserve any of the good things coming to him. Instead, you’ll find yourself just feeling bad for Jenny for most of the film’s runtime. Even then, you feel bad for her because she’s letting this guy walk all over her and not because she’s experienced real hardship. When all’s said and done, Older is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s not a bad film at all but it’s a middling and confounding one at times. The performances from Pigden and Knox really boost it up but the unlikable nature of the film’s main character is a glaring issue. Even so, Older comes with a recommendation due to its relatability and message even if you have to look under some of the ugliness to find it.
*Older is currently available for rent or purchase on video-on-demand platforms and also streaming on Amazon for Prime Members.*