A tender love story between two people faced with the difficulties of growing older - what it sometimes lacks in pace, it makes up for in intention.
The premise of this film is very much conventional. Two people in their 60s, Dave and Fern, meet one day whilst walking their dogs. Over the course of 23 walks, we watch as they get to know each other and their relationship blossoms. Despite seeming simple on the surface – both in terms of its plot and the style of filming – it is actually far from it, much like life itself.
This film does not shy away from the real issues that can affect older people. Fern has recently been coming to terms with her husband leaving her for his much younger secretary. Dave, meanwhile, is struggling financially due to the crippling cost of his dementia-stricken wife’s care. Director Paul Morrison handles sensitive topics like grief, loneliness, and the difficulties of parenthood very delicately, and should certainly be applauded for doing so. The casting is also fantastic; Dave Johns makes Dave a very warm, jovial character, and yet perfectly portrays the nuanced frustration he feels at the injustices he is faced with. Alison Steadman is an actress who can do no wrong in my book – she’s been wonderful in every role I’ve ever seen her in (Gavin & Stacey, Pride & Prejudice and Shirley Valentine to name just a few), and 23 Walks is no exception. The dogs are great, too!
However, the narrative does seem to lose its momentum after a while. So much of the story revolves around the ‘will they/won’t they?’ dynamic between Fern and Dave, and it does grow slightly tedious. Though Fern’s hesitance is understandable, there are times when she inexplicably blows hot and cold, and this can hinder the flow of the film. Just when we feel like they’re really getting somewhere, they’re back to square one again. Of course, entering into a new relationship when you’ve been hurt before and it becomes evident that there are secrets is no easy thing, but sometimes it doesn’t make for the most exciting cinema. That being said, it’s hard not to find yourself rooting for them to make it work and talk through their differences.
Overall, 23 Walks is heart-warming and heart-wrenching in equal measure. There are some really lovely moments, and some nice touches such as the walk number being captioned on screen so we can plot the timeline of their relationship. Though it sometimes feels disjointed and lacks pace, it does make a refreshing change to see a more mature romance on screen, and definitely offers food for thought on important social issues.
23 Walks, directed by Paul Morrison, is distributed in the UK via Parkland Entertainment, certificate 12A. Watch the trailer below: