Movies about old people are usually either depressing or awkward. They’re depressing because the characters usually spend the film pining for their lost youth, lamenting their frail bodies and regretting ancient opportunities not taken. Other times these films are awkward because the characters spend the film trying to be young again, doing things that only young people do; it’s like watching a 30-something hanging out with preteens. Sometimes these films are both depressing and awkward. Even rarer is when a film about old people is neither. Last Vegas, surprisingly, mostly falls in the last category.
Billy (Michael Douglas), Paddy (Robert De Niro), Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) have been friends since they were children. Now, just breaking into their 70s, these once vibrant men face the slow deterioration of their minds, bodies and lives. Billy, who is ostensibly the most successful of the bunch, has managed to remain unmarried his entire life, but when a friend passes away, the occasion jolts him into a hasty marriage proposal to his 31-year-old girlfriend. So for his bachelor party, Billy decides to get his old friends together for one last hurrah in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, age as well as certain relationship fissures threatens the weekend from being the celebration it should be.
It’s always a weird experience to watch recognizable A-list actors playing characters that are old since these same actors have continually defied age to play characters that are much younger. As such, it’s hard to shake off the feeling of miscasting even though these characters might actually be age-appropriate. The experience is even weirder here since the actors all feel like they have much wider disparities in age than they really do. This is in large part due to how audiences have perceived these actors throughout their career. Morgan Freeman has always been appreciated as an older actor, playing roles that afforded him opportunities to be the sage voice of experience. Likewise, Robert De Niro has already transitioned into more mature roles. Michael Douglas and Kevin Kline, however, need stronger arguments to make audiences feel comfortable with them playing geriatric characters since neither of them have been doing high-profile films that have progressively aged them. So there is a bit of effort required of audiences to simply accept the information the film provides.
Knowing that the characters are supposed to be in their 70s, the idea of living it up in Las Vegas like much younger men also feels forced in several spots. For example, the men go clubbing as well as judge a bikini contest. It would be one thing if the guys were thrown into these situations like fish out of water, but instead they actively seek these opportunities. Since the guys were never presented as dirty old men, seeing them in this manner goes against the notion everyone wants to believe that older people have evolved beyond their prurient natures. Audiences will probably mentally adjust the characters’ ages down in spite of themselves, but in doing so will enjoy the film that much more.
The comedy is on the light side with only a few forced old-man jokes and visual gags. Instead, most of the humor will come from the genuine interaction between the characters. The chemistry feels organic, and it’s fun to watch these guys engage each other, standing on a decades-old foundation of history. Just don’t expect to guffaw in the theater, because this isn’t that kind of film. It’s actually more of a coming-of-age movie, but on the other end of the spectrum, with characters accepting their current place in the timeline.
It’s the dramatic moments that are the highlights in the film. While it’s fun to watch old guys trying to fit in with a younger crowd, that’s not a compelling enough reason to watch Last Vegas. It’s when the characters reach their respective epiphanies that the film shines. Those moments give audiences hope that when they reach that age that they too will have the capacity to grow and learn and discover something new about themselves and life in general. Last Vegas reassures viewers that happiness can strike at any age, and, when it’s time to face the end, there will be lifelong friends standing by to make the passage easier.