TIFF 2022: Allelujah, by David Bax
It’s almost immediately apparent that Richard Eyre‘s Allelujah is going to be a bad movie. No good movie has ever started with one of those plucky, plinky scores you hear in stuff that’s made for television or for a Christian audience. It’s actually a surprise that any filmmaker would continue to employ such a grating red flag trademark of the most intensely mediocre cinema available. I suppose it is at least a surprise, then, when Allelujah turns out not to be mediocre but truly, nauseously bad.
Allelujah follows the final days of a geriatric ward of a small English village hospital that’s soon to be closed by the National Health Service due to budget cuts. It’s the movie, though, (based on a play by Alan Bennett) that should have been shuttered, if for no other reason than the condescending, self-serving and downright insulting way it depicts the elderly and what goes into caring for them at their most unwell. With the exception of a storyline highlighting the way that people in such facilities can be taken advantage of by their own adult children (in this case concerning wills and inheritance), all of the rough edges of reality are sanded off and replaced with cheap theatrics. Allelujah seems to want to congratulate itself for its advocacy on behalf of the most senior members of society but it refuses to treat them as the adults that they are. The film saves its most galling depiction for those with dementia, portraying them as versions of Lassie, only struggling to make themselves understood.
But we don’t have to worry, of course. Most of the those who work at the hospital are Good People, as are those trying to save it and, wouldn’t you know it, maybe even one of those who would seem to be trying to shut it down. There’s little in the way of surprise to even that reveal, though, since Eyre makes sure each and every heart of gold is worn prominently on the sleeve. There actually is a surprise to come later in the film but more on that in a moment.
First, there is one reason to look fondly one Allelujah. It’s a determinedly activist movie meant to argue vociferously for maintaining Britain’s National Health Service as just that, a service, and not a for-profit enterprise that does away with any part of itself that’s not earning money, even if it has the kind of non-monetary value that conservatives often seem unable to comprehend.
Anyway, back to that surprise. Allelujah packs a pretty crazy, late twist. The fact that you don’t see it coming doesn’t mean the movie outsmarted you. It’s just too stupid and incongruous for you to have guessed. But at least that’s a part of what makes the movie so memorably terrible.