About half the scenes in “Our Souls at Night” consist of Jane Fonda and Robert Redford simply talking to one another.
Those scenes are more exhilarating, more intoxicating and more memorable than many if not most gigantic action sequences in big-budget movies.
Redford and Fonda are legends, of course. What a thing it is to see them onscreen a half-century after “The Chase” (1966) and “Barefoot in the Park” (1967), and nearly 40 years after their last pairing in “The Electric Horseman” (1979).
But before they became icons, they were actors. Wonderful actors with screen-popping charisma.
In the terribly titled “Our Souls at Night,” which sounds like a horror film but is in fact a lovely and bittersweet and beautifully written romantic comedy/drama, Fonda and Redford disappear into their characters and execute each scene with flawless, naturalistic, utterly believable performances.
It all begins with a knock on the door.
Addie Moore (Fonda) has lived in the same small-town Colorado neighborhood as Louis Waters (Redford) for their entire adult lives. They’re both closer to 80 than 70, both on their own since their respective spouses passed. Their grown children have long since moved out of town.
So Addie has a proposition for Louis: How about they spend a night or two together? Not for the sex, but for the companionship. They can have a little dinner, and then crawl into bed together and spend the night talking until they fall asleep. What say you, Louis?
As you might expect, this semi-awkward arrangement soon develops into a warm friendship that might develop into something more — and that “something more” could quite likely lead to complications and possibly even heartbreak, because as it turns out, you’re never too old to have your heart splintered.
Based on the novel by Kent Haruf and directed with grace by Ritesh Batra, “Our Souls at Night” exudes a comfortable feeling, from the golden hues of the cinematography to the almost too-gentle and whimsical score to the Pottery Barn-influenced interiors. (One of the main characters’ homes literally has a white picket fence.)
It is not a movie that ever goes for big laughs or sitcom misunderstandings or arbitrary dramatic potholes. The humor is of the smile-inducing variety. The darker moments are never heavy-handed or manipulative.
You’d think even a small town with old-fashioned values wouldn’t blink an eye at the Addie-Louis relationship, but the old-timers at the coffee shop (led by Bruce Dern) gossip like they’re on the set of “Dish Nation.”
Louis’ daughter (Judy Greer, who creates an unforgettable character in just one scene) doesn’t seem to have a problem with her father spending time with Addie — but Addie’s son (Matthias Schoenaerts), already brimming with bitterness and anger after his wife has left him and his business has collapsed, is appalled that “Mr. Waters” from around the block has practically moved in with his mother.
When Addie’s 7-year-old grandson Jamie (“Young Sheldon” star Iain Armitage) moves in with Addie for a few weeks in the summer, Louis breaks out of his stiff exterior and shows a remarkable knack for befriending the lonely boy without being pushy. (A scene where Louis and Addie take Jamie to a shelter to pick out a dog is just killer. When Jamie gravitates to one particular pup and the handler says, “Would you like to meet him?” and the boy says quietly and quickly, “Yes please” — man. You know that dog is coming home with them.)
“Our Souls at Night” is not all greeting-card moments of positivity. Addie went through a mother’s worst nightmare, and her marriage never fully recovered. Louis was not always a great husband and father, and he, too, feels enormous regret over things he’ll never be able to make right.
But these are good people, and these are great actors portraying these good people, and if you not rooting for Louis and Addie to find comfort and love and peace with one another in their last years, then I just don’t know what to tell you.
Netflix presents a film directed by Ritesh Batra and written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, based on the novel by Kent Haruf. No MPAA rating. Running time: 101 minutes. Premieres Friday on Netflix.