Musical director Bob Cilman founded the Young @ Heart retiree chorus in 1982 when he was 27. Now 25 years later he’s more determined then ever to stay relevant. Out with musty ditties like “Yes, We Have No Bananas”; in with Sonic Youth’s “Schizophrenia.” The gray-haired songbirds complain, but they eventually come around enough to snap at documentarian Stephen Walker’s condescension. When Walker asks 92-year-old Eileen Hall – soloist on the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” – “That’s punk, isn’t it?” Hall cracks, “I would say so – have you heard it before?” (She did only give up stripping two years before.) The boorish Walker mistakes his killjoy questions for investigative depth: “Are you worried the cancer might be coming back?” he blurts out to a charming octogenarian visiting a doctor.
Despite the director, the film is damned wonderful, as it tracks the choir through the rehearsals for their latest sold-out show. The subjects are sharper than tacks and give zip to the jokes. In their hands, the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” becomes an anthem railing against the culture of nursing-home zombies. But death intrudes, and the film’s knockout moment comes when sonorous baritone Fred Knittle deepens Coldplay’s “Fix You” into an elegy, and the hauntingly beautiful ballad – which originally had the depth of wind whistling through a tin can – sends chills down the spine.