Rating: PG-13 Running time: 102 minutes
Stars: James Cromwell, Geneviève Bujold Director: Michael McGowan
Still Mine has romance, passion, suspense, and a David-and-Goliath narrative that may make you want to stand up and cheer. That’s a lot more than you might expect from the story of an 89-year-old man who builds a house for his ailing wife only to have bureaucrats threaten to bulldoze it for clerical reasons.
They’re Craig and Irene Morrison, as much in love now as they were on their wedding day more than 60 years ago. Still Mine offers us lots of lingering scenes of the two going about their daily lives — walking on a rocky New Brunswick shore, cutting each other’s hair, tending to their farm. But writer-director Michael McGowan also invites us into Craig and Irene’s bedroom, where amidst the creaking of springs and rustling of a comforter the most intimate of conversations come purring to the surface.
Soon after we meet Craig and Irene, we begin to understand the creeping desperation of their situation: She is slowly slipping into dementia, and for Irene the big old house they’ve called home for most of their lives is becoming something of a minefield. The pair owns a lot of scenic Canadian woodland, and Craig decides to build a simple little cottage by the sea, free of obstacles and with plenty of land around for wandering.
But when Craig applies for a building permit, he discovers that a lot has changed since the last time he constructed a home by himself. To McGowan’s credit, the bureaucrats are not depicted as cruel or dumb — they are simply folks whose allegiance to the system will not allow them to find ways around the rules for anyone, no matter how virtuous they may be.
The pace of Still Mine is languid, but never deliberate. The drama around Craig’s determination to build a small, safe house for Irene unfolds amid the larger picture of how, as years pass, the joys of a shared life inevitably must do battle with heartbreak. Cromwell’s Craig is stoic, almost to a fault, and when his emotional dam finally breaks we think not "How sad," but rather, "What took him so long?"
If Still Mine lacks a rousing, in-your-face moment of triumph for Craig — the conclusion comes not with a cheering courtroom, but with a rustling newspaper — it’s because such an explosion would have seemed out of place. Still Mine trades pyrotechnics for quiet presence, and that’s a more-than-fair exchange.
Bill Newcott is a writer, editor and movie critic for AARP Media.