There are late bloomers and then there those who never bloom at all. Unfortunately for Lisa Steen’s feature debut “Late Bloomers,” the film doesn’t open up in time to blossom into something great. The dramedy follows Louise (Karen Gillan), an aimless 28-year-old musician who breaks her hip while drunkenly stalking her ex. Through her injury, Louise befriends a group of elderly women at physical therapy and unwittingly becomes the caretaker to cranky Polish-speaking Antonina (Margaret Sophie Stein).
The parallels between Louise and Antonina are explained only in their shared shrugging off of polite social norms and blatant disregard for conventionality: namely, Louise is avoiding facing her ailing mother (Talia Balsam) who has Alzheimer’s and dodging calls from her scatter-brained father (Tim Nealon), while Antonina digs her heels in about moving into a retirement home. Nods to Antonina’s youth and her relationship with her own late daughter only sprout in the background of “Late Bloomers,” teasing what the film could have been.
Instead, “Late Bloomers” is obsessed with over-explaining just how irritating Louise is supposed to be. As someone in the harrowingly precise target demographic for her character — Louise is fresh out of a long-term relationship, newly 28, and hasn’t had sex in two years — Louise feels like a Grumpy Café extra from “Girls.” Gillan does her best impression of Aya Cash but the jokes fall flat, especially compared to her past work in the MCU and “Jumanji” franchise.
We’re told that Louise has “become a selfish brat” and needs to “grow the fuck up” within the first five minutes of the film as she moans about being one year post-split after dating her boyfriend for five years. Louise is flailing, so much so that she falls off the side of a railing while drunkenly (and aimlessly) trying to break into her ex’s new house. The awkward jokes fall flatter than the thud of Louise’s body hitting the pavement.
Louise is such a stereotypical millennial (Gen Z-er? doesn’t matter) that she takes breaking her hip as a “sign from the universe to do more self-care.” Although Antonina and Louise presents a dynamic like the fictional female version of “The Upside,” the character is used more like a wacky prop. Antonina doesn’t speak English and only yells in Polish; too bad we can’t understand anything she’s saying as there are no subtitles, sans the times Antonina is speaking to her family or Polish neighbors in her native tongue. It’s hard for audiences to be in on the joke, but it’s easy if that joke is just “oh, this isn’t English.”
The motives for the friendship between Louise and Antonina are even murkier. Louise gives Antonina an excuse to get out of her house and routine of physical therapy; Antonina seems to promise Louise her valuables hidden in a suitcase under her bed, because every great May-December friendship is rooted in bribes from what you’ll get after they die.
Louise and Antonina do have a fun, admittedly too short montage of wearing adult diapers, dancing, and doing their makeup at the local pharmacy. But “Late Bloomers” makes it clear that this friendship is not the central plotline of the film: Antonina is just another distraction for Louise, who is running from the reality of being single, alone, and without the mother she grew up with. Louise may have fallen off a roof, but she still has not fallen out of love with her ex-boyfriend and certainly hasn’t emotionally fallen out of the nest with her parents.
Louise’s roommate and best friend Brick (Jermaine Fowler) tells her that her late twenties mark the precipice of the “tundra” of disappointment and best way to grapple with this existential crisis is to be “less self-focused.” Louise doesn’t listen, and when Antonina ends up in the hospital, Louise is back where she started. There is an arc here, one that we are told in bits and pieces and seems to be as emotionally worthless as the suitcase under Antonina’s bed. It’s only when Louise ends up at her own mother’s nursing home facility that we get whispers of emotional depth that come too little and too late.
“Late Bloomers” premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.