I’ll be completely honest, I love doing reviews for this site and in general I’m optimistic about what’s next in life. But there’s a factor everyone alive today has to live with and that is that life is finite. This is something that is creepy as a child, but the older one gets the more of an issue it becomes that our time on this Earth is slowly ticking away as we transition through the stages of our life. This is unsettling enough, but there’s also no guarantee our twilight years will at least be a deserved victory lap. This fact is the focus of Spanish director Ignacio Ferreras’ Wrinkles.
Based on a semi-anecdotal graphic novel by Paco Roca, the film is a look at the uncertainties of old age and in particular the feared condition of Alzheimer disease. Emilio is a retired bank manager and widower. A friendly and strong minded man, he finds himself facing the very early stages of the disease. Preoccupied with his own life and unwilling to lose further time caring for him, Emilio’s adult son chooses to take him to a care home. It is here that he encounters Miguel, a long time resident who has willingly admitted himself to be taken care of by the home. Partnered as roommates, the two develop an unusual friendship as Emilio faces a disease that will tug at both their darkest fears of old age.
It’s become a Hollywood trend in the last decade or so to create films starring aging talent in defiance of the primarily youth led mainstream. These movies seem to have no greater message beyond ‘We aren’t dead yet.’ Wrinkles quite thankfully goes deeper than this. The focus is almost entirely on Emilio, Miguel and the other residents of the care home. Indeed if this were a Hollywood effort, I could easily picture the staff of the home being cast as thinly veiled villains and the focus being on Emilio’s son needing to regain the respect he once had for his father. But such trite ideas are avoided; the staff are good people working to care for the residents and we instead get to focus on a less scripted reality of how people deal with one of the most tragic ways to end their journey on Earth.
Emilio’s descent further into Alzheimer’s is subtly done, beginning with small bouts of forgetfulness and sadly transitioning further. The sadness is punctuated with his memories of an honest lifetime, from school to being a loving husband and father. We get a very good picture of a man facing the end of his life, having traveled far and lost much and now possibly having to face dying without dignity or even awareness of identity. Miguel serves as a valid counter to his roommate, the kind of person who has reached old age having never married or had children. Filling his days exploiting the dementia suffering residents for entertainment and profit, Miguel does carry his own fears about old age and directly voices some valid criticism about what exactly old people have to look forward to in modern society. I have to admit he reminds me of at least two older gentlemen I’ve encountered in my own life, making him stand out further as a proponent of the question whether old people should just quietly fade away or continue to be active members of society. This is a consistent plot element of the film and a very valid way to explore these characters. It wants you to remember that they were once children and young adults too, to the point that it’s the film’s final denouement.
Although the film is tackling some weighty and depressing facts of the human condition, it’s certainly not overwhelmingly heavy-handed or devoid of comedy. Both tragedy and comedy are handled in a way that feels true to life, with comedy in particular spinning out of situations rather than from Hollywood style set-pieces. However, this standard does get broken quite late in the movie in a way that feels like no one knew how to bring the story to conclusion without a somewhat forced dramatic moment.
The cast includes seasoned veterans, with Martin Sheen and George Coe leading as Emilio and Miguel respectively. Both actors give great performances, with Sheen bringing forth Emilio’s increasing sense of bewilderment and Coe tackling Miguel’s well worn pursuit of charismatic self-preservation. Voice acting as a whole is strong with ADR direction of the English cast handled by Michael Sinterniklaas, an industry veteran for both sides of voice acting. The result is relaxed, natural feeling dialogue reads that perfectly fit the presentation of the feature. Sinterniklaas himself and his long time colleague Stephanie Sheh both appear in minor roles but I’d highlight also Lauri Fraser’s performance as Antonia, a female foil for the two leads who explores another reaction to old age and care homes.
The animation is inspired heavily by Roca’s original pages, resulting in what I feel is the distinctive style of mainland Europe with detailed scenes that are nonetheless kept to the essentials. In this production, the result is to give the care home just the right edge of melancholy as a place that is home to so many, yet lacks the individualism that makes a home. Transitioning this standard to animation also works for the understandably limited movements of pensioners, though the presentation isn’t without flourish or charm. Anyone can make boring animation but Wrinkles keeps your attention 100% of the time through a mix of consistent pacing and clever selection of camera angles to punctuate the twists, laughs and tragedies of the story. Lighting plays a key part in this with the subtle use of visual elements like shading, sunsets, and winter to support the central theme.
Wrinkles is a film that sets out to address a difficult and scary facet of human life. The young will perhaps always look on the old as practically a separate society but as the film shows the young themselves are destined to become the next generation of old. This is a powerful and affecting look at the fears of old age in the 21st century, free of the schmaltz of Hollywood efforts. It has something to say to audiences of all ages and like all good cinema will have you walking away with much food for thought. A perfect, poignant blend not to be missed.