There is no specific point at which every person realizes that they’ve become an adult. Instead, significant life events may trigger emotional crises and a sense that they either need to get their acts together or that they don’t have nearly as much time left as they thought. Experiencing a medical issue typically associated with much older patients can be a jarring trigger, one that may initiate a stark response. Late Bloomers tells a humorous story of one young woman who begins to focus on someone else’s life rather than her own when she finds herself facing an unforeseen health situation.
Louise (Karen Gillan) is twenty-eight years old and living in Brooklyn. Her ill-advised decision to climb onto her ex-boyfriend’s windowsill while drunk results in an injury mostly incurred by the elderly: a broken hip. In the hospital, Louise meets an irritable woman named Antonina (Margaret Sophie Stein) who only speaks Polish. Initially frightened and annoyed, Louise soon grasps that Antonina is unable to communicate with those around her and faces the prospect of being put in a nursing home by her frustrated granddaughter. Though she’s certainly not fit for the job, Louise agrees to be Antonina’s caregiver, gradually bonding with her even though the two of them can’t understand a word the other says.
Early on in their unsuccessful conversations, Louise speaks into her phone so that it will translate her words into Polish only to hear them spoken again in English. That becomes a running joke throughout the film since Louise’s cracked phone, which she remains glued to whenever she’s not actively speaking to someone else, is eternally unreliable. It also suggests a lack of effort on Louise’s part to actually fix a problem, yet she demonstrates an extraordinary creativity and open-mindedness when she begins loosely translating what Antonina says on her own using her body language and intonation as clues. She’s often quite wrong, but it’s an entertaining device that makes the establishment of an unlikely friendship all the more endearing.
Gillan, who will best known to most franchise audiences for her role as Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy and related Marvel Cinematic Universe films, has made impressive independent festival projects in the past, most notably her feature directorial debut The Party’s Just Beginning. That film is a helpful reference for this one since Gillan’s characters are somewhat similar, but Louise is far more verbose and somewhat plucky about life, despite the fact that she’s not really headed anywhere and has endured a difficult transition with her parents following her mother’s severe and worsening memory issues. Louise is endlessly awkward and typically makes situations worse, but she also just takes much of the misery that comes her way with a gleeful acceptance, aware that, try as she might, she can’t really control much.
Lisa Steen makes an engaging feature directorial debut with a script from frequent collaborator Anna Greenfield. The setup isn’t overly complex, but getting to know Louise and Antonina through their challenging communications is an enthralling process. It also smartly probes social expectations about what and where people should be at a particular point in their lives. Memorable supporting players including Jermaine Fowler as Louise’s roommate, who reveals a hidden sense of humor, and the group of older women brought together for water-based physical therapy with plenty to say about the failings of the younger generation. This is a movie that knows how to hit the right notes and not overdo them, pivoting midway through to shine a greater and more welcome focus on Louise’s own journey towards being okay with who she is just as herself.
Late Bloomers makes its world premiere in the Narrative Feature Competition at SXSW.