Anyone who has ever faced old age — or watched a loved one do so — will find plenty to identify with in Another Harvest Moon.
It covers nearly every angle of the experience, from the perspectives of worried relatives, stressed-out caregivers and, of course, the elderly themselves.
The film is based on Jeremy T. Black’s play, which had only four characters — residents of a nursing home who gather regularly to play cards.
Director Greg Swartz opens up the story to include other people and settings, but the focus remains on the core group. Frank (Ernest Borgnine) is a World War II veteran recovering from a stroke, who spends his days hanging out with Ella (Anne Meara), Alice (Doris Roberts) and the dementia-stricken June (Piper Laurie). Together, they fight to live on their own terms as long as they possibly can.
In Frank’s case, that also means dying on his own terms, as he realizes he may not recover from his latest health setback. His grown children (Cybill Shepherd and Richard Schiff) struggle to accept the inevitable, although his adoring grandson (Cameron Monaghan) seems to understand.
Frank’s determination inspires his friends, especially Alice, who is still independent enough to go out and achieve some of her unfulfilled goals.
Black adapted his play for the screen, and the theatrical limitations are still evident, with carefully blocked dialogue scenes taking up most of the running time. Luckily, the dialogue is delivered by a dream cast. Watching Borgnine, Meara, Roberts and Laurie interact could substitute for an entire semester of drama school. Black and Swartz must have been pinching themselves while they filmed this.
Shepherd and Schiff are no slouches either, and 15-year-old Monaghan is a real find. Even the actors in smaller roles, like Sunkrish Bala as Frank’s nurse and Amber Benson as June’s granddaughter, are given a chance to shine. As much as they can with those legends in the room, anyway.
Most of the material in Another Harvest Moon has been dealt with elsewhere, in everything from The Notebook to The Bucket List to Cocoon. What sets this film apart is the honest, mostly unsentimental way it addresses issues that everyone will deal with sooner or later.
It may not be terribly original, but in its sweet, unassuming way, it is inspiring.
Another Harvest Moon: 2 1/2 stars out of 4
Rated PG-13 Running time: 1 hour 27 minutes