We live in a youth-obsessed culture. That much we know. We worship at the altar of infinite possibility, saying “youth must have its fling” – and we bemoan those lost opportunities to “make our mistakes”. But there’s nothing bracing or invigorating about living through a real folly of youth. One that hurts the ones we care about. Those kinds of mistakes can make people instantly old, no matter what their calendar age. Old Stock explores the consequences of two such follies: one that engulfs its title character at the end of high school, and another committed by an older man in the grip of second child(hood)ishness.
When we first meet Stock Burton (Noah Reid), he is living in a retirement home with his grandfather (Harold, played with old-time Allen Jenkins-ish charm by Danny Wells), who is “on a break” from his marriage of nearly fifty years. The film begins by establishing a gently ironic tone, juxtaposing the slouching, housecoated Stock’s tentative manner with the lecherous, skirt-chasing patter of his nattily-dressed elder relative and his equally flesh-conscious pal Wendel (Gene Mack). Soon, however, we learn that, whatever the retirement home may be for its other residents, for Harold, as much as for Stock, it represents a retreat from life. In the younger man’s case, it is unclear what prompted this retreat – although we do glean that his low-key (but potentially very serious) malaise has something to do with an incident involving the town’s not-quite-kitschy-enough-to-be-cool “Giant Anchor” statue. Harold’s problem, on the other hand, is pretty clear from the start – he’s going through some sort of “end of life crisis” (in the words of his discarded wife Gloria, played by Corinne Conley).
At one point, Stock asks his grandfather “when are you going to stop chasing women around?”, to which Harold responds: “when you start!” This parallel plot construction might sound a little too neat, but Old Stock has some interesting new tricks up its sleeve. Most of these revolve around the way director Genn and screenwriter Clark play their prematurely aged protagonist off against two women who are dealing with challenges of their own. The film does feature some story beats that will be familiar to veteran romantic comedy viewers, but these are carried off very well, thanks to an insightful script, introspective direction, some wonderfully pyromanic bits of business and the fine chemistry between Reid and Melanie Leishman (who brings a really beguiling solidity to Patti, the community service performing senior citizen home dance instructor who could easily have become just another manic pixie dream girl in less expert hands). Meghan Heffern also makes an impression as an anything-but-typical girl next door.
Ultimately, Old Stock is a film about refusing to give in to the golden age mentality, which can express itself either as a complete rejection of further life experience, or through an erratic tendency to engage in behaviour that dwells parodically upon a mirage of the past. Can people ever outgrow “old age”? Genn’s film suggests that we can, if we work together to diminish the pull of those arbitrary anchors that lurk in every human being’s past.
Old Stock opens at Toronto’s Carlton Cinema on May 31st.