We may think that a love story is a love story. They meet. They clash. They become friends. They fall out. They reconcile. Life is beautiful. Those are the typical beats in such a story. They are all there in 23 Walks, written and directed by Paul Morrison, but it all seems a bit different because the characters are a bit older. That brings some new dimensions to the film.
Dave (Dave Johns) and Fern (Alison Steadman) first meet while walking their dogs in a park in North London. Fern is a bit grumpy that Dave’s dog, while perfectly behaved, is not on a leash. They begin to run into each other on their daily walks, and are soon planning to meet on the walks. Little by little a friendship develops. But they are both in their sixties. This is not a story about raging passion. It is a much mellower journey into the possibility of some kind of new future.
The age of the characters slows down the story just a bit—and that’s fitting. (I move slower now than I used to, too.) Because they are older, they have learned that things can happen over time. But their ages mean that they each have histories. Those pasts have brought joys and pains. They may make them wary about this relationship. It does lead them to keep some important things secret—which leads to serious problems.
It is those histories that bring the new perspective to this romance. In a more traditional love story, we are looking toward a future and the possibilities that holds. While we do hope for a wonderful future for Dave and Fern, we know that for them, this relationship is going to have to deal with the past as well, because those pasts linger in our lives.
Their futures are complicated. Both are about to lose their homes. (No, the answer to their problems isn’t to move in together.) Both have family issues they must deal with—not because of a lack of love, but because of so much love. But perhaps in that tension between their difficult pasts and their uncertain futures, they can find a present in one another that will bring some happiness.
The story is told with sweetness, but it is not cloying. These are characters that are firmly based in reality and common people. They are aging, but still have a good deal of life in them that they are seeking to maximize. The love that grows between them has that same sense of reality. It is grounded in a relationship that feeds them both. Any physical manifestations of love grow from that, which puts it all on a firm foundation. The love we see is a warm-hearted enjoyment of each other. It is the kind of love that those characters in traditional love stories with younger people hope they can grow into over time.
23 Walks is in select theaters and available on VOD.