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April 24, 2014

Cocoon

by Franz Patrick


Cocoon (1985)
★★ / ★★★★

Ben (Wilford Brimley), Art (Don Ameche), and Joe (Hume Cronyn) live in a seaside retirement community. Once in a while they break into a pool house next door for some fun and relaxation. During one of their visits, they see four rock-looking figures settled at the bottom. Although curious as to what they are, the zestful gentlemen are not entirely bothered by them so they decide to swim anyway.

Meanwhile, Jack (Steve Guttenberg) is hired by Walter (Brian Dennehy) so that he and his crew can use Jack’s boat for twenty-seven days. Out in the middle of the ocean, they obtain cocoons that house extra-terrestrials and place them in the swimming pool that the older folks so enjoy spending time in.

“Cocoon,” based on the screenplay by Tom Benedek and David Saperstein, is highly enjoyable at times because, having volunteered in a retirement home during my years as an undergraduate, I found it honest in its portrayal of the aging. While there is a sadness in watching the geriatric characters struggle in doing the simplest things like getting from one point of the room to another or picking up a spoon to feed themselves, these images are contrasted with sequences where the men and women are energetic enough to partake in social activities like dancing and playing mahjong. This is before we learn that the cocoons in the pool have the magical ability to make the old feel very young again.

Comedic scenes come in various forms like the men freely talking about their erections and seducing their wives or lady friends to bed. I appreciated that the movie shows that even old people can still talk about sexual things without reservation.

The most awkward aspect of the picture, however, is the romance between Jack and Kitty (Tahnee Welch), one of Walter’s crew members. After being a Peeping Tom and discovering that Kitty is an alien, he is still so very willing to get into her pants. And he is far from subtle about it. It is probably funny on paper because Jack comes off as a silly kid stuck in a man’s body, but I found it weird and the possibility of a human and an alien sharing a love scene made me feel uncomfortable.

Whenever the romantic angle is front and center, I wondered if the yearning between the human and the alien could have been more convincing and actually romantic if the script had been more subtle about their feelings for one another. Because their interactions consistently border on triteness, I did not believe the sentiments. I was bored. It is similar to watching a puppet show with no jokes.

Eventually, the old folks are given a choice between living the rest of their lives until their bodies are ready to die and a chance to live forever. Bernie (Jack Gilford) supports the former idea despite his ailing wife while the rest are, understandably, so quickly willing to embrace such a magical possibility. Instead of going for the easy chase scene, I wished the picture had taken more time in exploring which really is the right thing to do for each major character. In the end, we get the impression that some of them will not be happy with their decisions somewhere down the line.

Directed by Ron Howard, “Cocoon” is a mixed bag. When the camera turns its attention to the residents of the retirement community, the material coruscates a certain contagious energy. If only the subplots were constructed and executed as freshly and as youthful as the spirits of the senior citizens.

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