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Sex and the Retirement Set

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We used to think that old age invited a regression to childhood, and, I suppose, the Depends sales chart powerfully continues to argue the accuracy of that opinion. But the members of the"ôActive Adult" community centered around the Boynton Beach Club are of a different mind: Susan Seidelman's film shows them reverting to sex-obsessed adolescence. If, as the saying goes, Hollywood is high school with money, then retirement is, according to this movie, high school with Social Security checks and AARP cards.

Not that anything as practical as making ends meet on fixed, reduced incomes is allowed to intrude on this fantasy. The seniors are all played by minor, aging actors of the semi-recent past (Dyan Cannon, Sally Kellerman, Brenda Vaccaro among them) and before anything like a plot gets rolling, the film has about it a not entirely attractive voyeuristic aspect. We don't really want to see the dreamboats of the past hull-down in the realties of aging. We know it must come to them — no matter how clever the cosmetic surgeons have been (or how bravely some of the actors have resisted their ministrations) — but our memories of the way they once looked keeps interfering with the reality of what we see before us and of what they are trying to convey in the film.

Which is mainly to promote a kind of determined perkiness. Most of them are members of a bereavement group, the ostensible purpose of which is for them to share the pain they all feel at the loss of spouses, the real intent of which is get them back in the dating game. The unspoken assumption of Boynton Beach Club, which is derived from an idea proposed by Seidelman's own mother, who is credited as one of the movie's producers, is that loneliness is a fate worse than — well, yes, death. It is not exactly the ghost haunting the attic of this movie's mind. It is, at best, an inconvenience to be surmounted by busy work and romantic dither. What steals over one as this movie stumbles along — it strikes the poses of comedy, without providing any laughs — is a sadness that it refuses to explore. Its characters all seem to be uprooted, plunked down on a sunny Florida shore and obliged to fend for themselves among estranged strangers, filling the empty days with idle conversations and purely arbitrary social events. To me, frankly, it looks like hell on earth. It also seems to me that, in reality, this emptiness would probably be an invitation to long, gloomy thoughts about mortality and the meaninglessness of life when there's no job to go to, no kids to raise, no hopes to entertain. In this context, it is easy to see why sex — or, anyway, the thought of sex, the dream of sex — becomes so important to everyone. It becomes part of a 12-step program to keep the bogeyman at bay.

To that end everyone we meet in this film is grotesquely up and doing, romantically speaking. Cannon, for example finds a hunk who turns out to be not quite of the social status he pretends and she wants. Len Cariou's Jack is decently hesitant about bedding Kellerman's Sandy, but eventually succumbs to her rather therapeutically stated invitations. Joe Bologna talks a confident wom anizing game, but doesn't score many points. Of this odd lot only Brenda Vaccaro's Marilyn, saddened but not fully daunted by the sudden, accidental death of her husband, seems content to accept a solitary life as the not unbearable price to be paid for happiness past. There's something rather touching about her self-containment. And she makes you think that if this movie had a shred of thoughtfulness about it, if it wanted to make us contemplate courageously, or even just wryly, the endgame that all of must eventually play, it might have been a very useful exercise. But to find brave and authentic good cheer — which can certainly include romance if you get lucky — on the drear side of life requires a wit and wisdom that is beyond the powers of this truly tasteless movie to summon up.