Film explores senior dating, sex

By JOHN THOMASON | Forum Publishing Group

February 25, 2009

If for no other reason, see the new movie "Play the Game" for the most unexpected sex scene of 2009.

It's between a 79-year-old, red negligee-attired Liz Sheridan — James Dean's formerly betrothed and Jerry's mom on "Seinfeld" — and an 82-year-old Andy Griffith, whose character has been slipped Viagra into his drink instead of Metamucil.

"Play the Game" is rated PG-13, so you don't see any of the naughty bits, but the implication is enough to cause a stir; it's becoming the scene writer-director Marc Fienberg's film is most known for. Tender, funny and over the top, it's a scene filled with enough giddy exuberance to cancel out the bawdiness of the material.

It's a bit awkward, and that's the point.

"In the first place, the room was tiny, the bed was enormous, there was so many cast and crew around, and [Griffith's] wife was looking through the camera," Sheridan recalls. "You couldn't move around, there were so many people in there. So it was just funny."

Reportedly, Sheridan's silk wardrobe clashed with the silk sheets of the bed and caused her to take a near-spill. You won't see that moment play out in the film, but it would have been strangely appropriate. Fienberg seems to suggest that whether it's acne-scarred teens applying their first prophylactics or horny senior citizens reclaiming their libidos, the processes of courtship and sex aren't much different.

"It's a big secret we all know but don't want to confront: Old people still do it," said Fienberg. "And not only do they do it, they enjoy it. It's been getting more press now. Scientific studies are being done that show that seniors are still fooling around and having sex. I wanted to bring that to light. Seniors probably need love and companionship more than anyone. It's something we were confronted with, and we wanted to show it in a realistic, humorous way."

The film, which opens across South Florida Friday, follows two dual plots. In one, Grandpa Joe (Griffith) is finally seeking companionship years after his wife died, nervously re-entering the dating scene only to become a sex machine. His grandson David (Paul Campbell) follows an opposite track. Convinced he knows how to "play" women, he never thinks beyond the next one-night stand until an unattainable beauty (Maria Sokoloff) turns him honest. David and Joe both learn about love, sex and friendship along the way, and co-stars Doris Roberts and Clint Howard add colorful support.

The idea stemmed from Fienberg's relationship with own Grandpa Joe, who once lived in Century Village in Deerfield Beach.

"My grandfather was 89 years old, and it had been four or five years since my grandmother died," Fienberg said. "And one time when I was visiting him, he whispered, 'Hey Marc, I kissed a girl.' I had a lot of different reactions. But mostly I thought how cute and endearing and special and nice



it was to see someone in their late 80s being as excited as they were about it. He was somewhat withdrawn and repressed and not social, but meeting this one woman turned his life around.

"And for years, he would come to me with dating advice," he continued. "I saw him going through the same emotions any school kid goes through: 'Will she call me? What should I do next? What if she says no? What if she doesn't like me?'"

In an attempt to find an honest portrayal of senior citizen love and sex through humor, Fienberg tackled what he thought was lacking in most movies about elderly people.

"Not a lot of movies are targeted to seniors," he said. "If they are, they use what I call the cheap senior laugh: crotchety old people, fart jokes, Depends jokes. Those are parts of senior life, but not the interesting parts. These people are hitting on each other. All the cliques and dynamics of high school still exist in the retirement community. That's the interesting stuff, and it's just as funny, if not funnier, than the issues seniors have with bodily functions."

Fineberg's grandfather died before the movie was made, but he did get to witness an early script reading of the story, which was an emotional experience for grandpa and grandson.

"In a way, it was probably lucky," Fienberg said. "If I had called him up and told him one of his favorite actors from 'Matlock' would play his role, it probably would have given him a heart attack."

In an unusual distribution rollout, "Play the Game" is opening in South Florida — in 13 theaters in Palm Beach County and five in Broward — before bigger markets such as New York and Los Angeles.

"It was a conscious decision we made," Fienberg said. "It's where my grandfather lived. He couldn't be around to see it, but at least the people he knew could be here to watch it. What better way to reward and amuse the people who inspired the film?"

"Play the Game" opens Friday in most area theaters.