Strong Foundations – Tearjerking ‘Still Mine’ rests on James Cromwell

James Cromwell, left, and Genevieve Bujold play aging farmers Craig and Irene Morrison in thefilm "Still Mine." Samuel Goldwyn Films photo
James Cromwell, left, and Genevieve Bujold play aging farmers Craig and Irene Morrison in thefilm “Still Mine.”
Samuel Goldwyn Films photo

Here’s a movie about building code violations ruining the golden years of a farming couple, which will make this a go-to date for anyone who’s had to go through the Planning Commission. But even for those who haven’t, it’s a sweet drama about an aging couple still very much in love.

Even though the story and its execution are pretty corny, “Still Mine” has at its disposal James Cromwell and Genevieve Bujold as the octogenarians having decide which is worse: old age or bureaucracy. Mr. Cromwell has always been a comforting presence in film. He’s many people’s idea of a farmer based on his role in “Babe” and his kindly face is one of the main reasons he makes such a good villain in films like “L.A. Confidential.”

And as for Ms. Bujold, she’s still making films, but hasn’t been as high profile for a while.

The two play Craig and Irene Morrison, who raise dairy cows and fruit on a scenic farm in the wilds of New Brunswick. Irene has started to show signs of dementia and the farmhouse they live in is rickety, so Craig decides to build a smaller house for his wife on their land.

But Mr. Morrison is going to have a little problem building his dream house. The first sign of unrest is when Craig can’t sell his strawberry crop like usual: he doesn’t have a refrigerated truck to transport as mandated by the government.

“It seems like there’s a regulation for everything!” says Craig in a heavy bit of foreshadowing.

There’s more to come: the government needs permits and blueprints. The blueprints are in his head, he says. The wood is not certified because he milled it out of the nearby forest himself.

Meanwhile, the Morrisons’ children — Gary (Campbell Scott), Ruth (Julie Stewart) and John (Rick Roberts) — really think that no house is going to fix anything and that their mom should have better help.

In the second half of the film, “Still Mine” focuses more on Irene’s health than regulations, and the empty frame of the new house seems to mock Craig and his goals. Building the house becomes a therapy for him the more Irene slips into her final stages.

Writer-director Michael McGowan has a workaday style. He tells the story straightforwardly, and the script is very pedestrian in places, with characters delivering plenty of expository dialogue. A bit too much of the film is filled with Craig looking distraught and Irene gazing off into space. And the final song by Mumford & Sons is just the sort of overwrought emoting the film keeps toying with throughout.

“Still Mine” won some prizes at festivals for James Cromwell’s performance, and the film probably wouldn’t be worth sitting through if it wasn’t for him. He brings gravity and believability to even the hokiest lines, and his character isn’t always likable. But he will most probably remind many people of a grandfather or a favorite uncle, and because of that, get ready for some sobbing.

‘Still Mine’
Starring: James Cromwell, Genevieve Bujold, Campbell Scott
Length: 102 mins.
Rated: PG-13 for some thematic elements and brief sensuality/partial nudity
Playing at:Plaza de Oro

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