In one scene of Finding Your Feet, Sandra and Bif sit side-by-side on the couch in Bif’s eccentrically messy apartment and gaze wistfully at the home video footage of a much younger Sandra. She is engaged in competition ballroom dancing. “I looked so happy,” says Sandra. “You were,” is the reply.
The story opens when the newly titled “Lady” Sandra Abbott (Imelda Staunton) is confronted with her husband’s adulterous betrayal on the eve of their retirement. Devastated, she goes to stay with her older sister Bif (Celia Imrie), a free-spirited single woman who is Sandra’s polar opposite in many ways – dressed down, progressive, and open-hearted, where Sandra is buttoned up, conservative and untrusting. Added to the mix is Bif’s best friend, the pot-smoking and gently roguish furniture restorer Charlie (Timothy Spall), as well as their divorce lawyer friend, the five-times-married Jackie, (an ever-elegant Joanna Lumley). Thrust into this vibrant, unpredictable environment, Sandra is on a journey of self-discovery.
Finding Your Feet is a romantic comedy whose story beats are well-trodden – fans of Richard Curtis movies like Notting Hill and Love Actually will feel at home. Sandra is a fish out of water amongst her new plain-talking, simple-living friends, all single seniors looking to make the most of the final chapters of their lives. They find it in each other, and in dancing – which happens to be Sandra’s lost childhood passion. There are some moving moments that arise out of the bittersweet circumstances of being elderly: Alzheimer’s makes a tragic appearance, as does more than one person’s passing. There are also plenty of laughs. A joke about trading in for a newer model is milked for its full potential, and Staunton’s drunken tirade in a restaurant offers wicked delight.
However, the movie can be indecisive about the level of humour it wishes to take, sometimes dipping a little into broad farce, at other times keeping the jokes embedded more truthfully within character. At one point the passing of an amorous senior is played for laughs, while another death, to cancer, is mourned by a whole community. In fact, the plot’s emotional roller coaster takes one or two too many dips than we may want, and that adds to the slight artificiality of the story.
But there is a warmth to be found, especially in the authentic interplay between Sandra and her sister and new friends. And the key is in the brilliant performances by the central trio of Imrie, Spall, and in particular, Staunton, who is so deeply nuanced and seamless that it is difficult to even isolate her individual moments of change. The result is utterly endearing. If you can buy into the conventional plot machinations of Finding Your Feet, you’ll be won over by Sandra’s story.
This reviewer is no doubt younger than the ideal audience member. But you may find yourself like the two sisters watching the old home video of young Sandra dancing. It is a life-affirming experience that should resonate deeply with those who have their own precious mixed bag of memories to reflect on.
Finding Your Feet is in cinemas Wednesday.