A senior living residence with its quota of kvetching, aching and wheelchair-bound septuagenarians and octogenarians, is generally not the setting for an offbeat romantic film. However, an exception is “The Second Time Around,” a Canadian import, brought to life by Katherine Mitchell (Linda Thorson) and Isaac Shapiro (Stuart Margolin).
Katherine is a genteel gentile, vivacious and white-haired, while Isaac, a former tailor, is a balding, grumpy Jewish man. Both are in their 70s. Isaac lost his wife several years earlier, while Katherine is a newly bereaved widow with a broken hip. Her two daughters are sympathetic to her loss but too busy with their own jobs and complex marital issues to take care of their mother.
As fate would have it, Katherine and Isaac are assigned to the same dining room table but largely ignore each other. Eventually though, they discover a mutual devotion to classical music, particularly opera, and are fond of Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata.”
Through their musical bond, the couple gradually learn to appreciate each other’s qualities and, after the necessary misunderstandings, fall in love. Their love blooms in the film’s funniest scene, centering on the home’s annual dance, which is divided into three segments.
In the first scene, the elderly women dig out their best dresses, carefully apply makeup, fuss with their hair and preen in front of the mirrors. In the following scene, the gentlemen follow suit, carefully arranging remaining strands of hair on balding pates, applying after-shave lotion, selecting neckties and preening in front of the mirror. It all pays off in the third scene, where the wheelchair-bound residents perform their own choreographed dance, and even Katherine gingerly tries a few steps with the gallant Isaac.
The film’s final scene depicts the fulfillment of Katherine’s dream as the happy couple jet off to the La Scala Opera House in Milan for a glorious performance of “La Traviata.”
It is perhaps a changing sign of the times that the film doesn’t include a single mention or observation on the romance between a gentile and a Jew. The theme, which might include fierce opposition to the match on the part of parents and other relatives, used to be a frequent plotline in American plays and movies, including the 1920s stage hit “Abie’s Irish Rose” and Woody Allen’s screen roles in “Annie Hall” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
“Katherine is a genteel gentile, vivacious and white-haired, while Isaac, a former tailor, is a balding, grumpy, Jewish man.. “
The Journal spoke with director Leon Marr and lead actor Margolin, both of whom said the theme of an interfaith conflict in the movie was never even considered.
Marr, 70, is the son of a Jewish father and Catholic mother. “I inherited guilt from both sides,” he quipped. Although his father had a background in rabbinical studies, Marr was raised in his mother’s faith. “We always maintained good relations with both sides of the family,” he said.
In writing the screenplay for “The Second Time Around,” Marr modeled the character of Isaac Shapiro after his own father, a Russian-born tailor who settled in Canada.
He began writing the script 10 years ago under the title “Winter Love,” and finally shot the film last year in 14 days.
Born in Davenport, Iowa, Margolin, 78, has made a name for himself as an actor, director, screenwriter, songwriter and musician. He won Emmy Awards for supporting actor two years running for his role as Evelyn “Angel” Martin in “The Rockford Files.”
Over his illustrious career (32 movies and 125 television shows), he has played only two Jewish characters — both on stage: Nat in “I’m Not Rappaport” and the Sid Caesar-like Max Prince in Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.”
His grandparents originally emigrated from Russia but Margolin was raised in what he called “liberal and artistic” Dallas. However, he was perhaps able to channel some of Isaac Shapiro’s quirks thanks to his family’s background.
Said Margolin, thanks to his grandparents, he learned just enough Yiddish “to order a sandwich in a deli.”
“The Second Time Around” opens Dec. 14 at Laemmle’s Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (310) 478-3846.