Another Harvest Moon: (2009): There aren’t many films with as much veteran acting chops as this. Heading the bill is Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine, a robust 92 or so when this was made two years ago; four-time Emmy nominee Cybill Shepherd, now 60; three-time Oscar nominee Piper Laurie, 79; four-time Emmy nominee Anne Meara, 81; and four-time Emmy winner Doris Roberts, 80 (Everybody Loves Raymond).
The film is about something almost every middle-class American experiences if they or their parents live long enough: facing the end of life in a nursing home. As Frank (Borgnine) begins having health issues, his children, Vickie (Shepherd) and Jeffrey (Richard Schiff), and Frank’s young and admiring grandson Jack (Shameless’ Cameron Monaghan), spend a lot of time visiting and trying to come to terms with a once-strong parent — a major presence in all their lives – who is dying. Also in the home are three feisty women (Laurie, Roberts, Meara) all of whom are friends with Frank and each other. They each have their own issues, personalities, hopes and worries.
This subject matter is not new, but writer Jeremy T. Black and director Greg Swartz have compressed a number of key issues into an 85-minute film without making it seem contrived or instructive. They nail many of the caretaker concerns dead-on, such as Jeffrey’s fear that Frank’s dark-skinned nurse, Paul, may try to steal Frank’s war mementos.
While there are definitely sad or sobering moments, the film is much more upbeat and hopeful than expected. There are some laughs, mostly supplied by the bickering chorus of Meara and Roberts, old hands at comedy. Tired of Roberts’ eternal optimism, Meara yells at her, “Stop, you’re worse than Christmas.” There is also a continuing element of tension due to a semi-automatic pistol hidden near Frank’s bed.
Standing out in the exceptional ensemble is Borgnine. Has it really been 56 years since this then-little-known ugly duckling character actor beat out James Dean, Frank Sinatra, James Cagney and Spencer Tracy for the Best Actor Oscar of 1955 for Marty? Almost 200 productions later, he’s still vital and completely convincing. www.anotherharvestmoon.com (three stars)