Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on December 20, 2019 Published on December 20, 2019

Bins and I emerged from the time-tunnel known as air travel a few days ago. Emirates continues to be our conveyance of choice and it’s still pretty good. To prep for the journey, I bought a new-fangled neck pillow. It’s made of memory-foam and looks like a tetrapod, those things used along sea-fronts to break the force of the waves.

It was almost a failure until I turned it sideways. Then its two stubby prongs gripped my head securely and comfortably. Plus I could hold it in front of me, resting my chin on it to watch movies. Which is, really, the main reason I fly these days: Eighteen hours of non-stop movies! Of course I usually manage only a handful before sinking into that twilight wakefulness that typifies modern air travel.

The movie I liked best this time was The Old Man & The Gun, starring Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek. Redford’s face, at 82 and in close up, is thick with wrinkles. He seems to revel in his own cragginess, challenging us to reject him in his old age. And of course we do not. It’s a sweet-salt story, based on the escapades of a character called Forrest Tucker. He was a real person, a career criminal with a fondness for breaking out of jail and a gift for successfully robbing banks. Redford plays him with elegance and wit, a faint smile playing on his lips and in his eyes all throughout.

Spacek is his romance interest and they’re charming together, like two very young children pretending to date. I kept asking myself how it was possible to make a film like this, given the lightweight story and its dreamy slow-motion pace. All the main characters are well past their sell-by-date. The suspense is milder than a capsicum and the humour is of the silent-chuckle variety. In no way does the film resemble any of its contemporaries... and yet? I just wanted it to keep on going.

My approach to in-flight movies is to watch one for a few minutes and, if I’m not grabbed, stop and search for another. Sometimes I’ll go 10 minutes in, flip to the end, and, if it looks interesting, back up to earlier scenes. I did that with On Chesil Beach, based on Ian McEwan’s novel and adapted for film by him. The critics praised both book and film warmly but I found the extended flashbacks annoying and somehow clichéd.

Then there was Family, starring Taylor Schilling, of the Netflix TV drama Orange Is The New Black. Here she plays a successful-executive-dysfunctional-woman forced to care for her niece, an overweight pre-teen who prefers karate to ballet. It’s not a great film. But the sheer range of feminine awkwardness on display made it weirdly compelling to me. I was a dysfunctional aunt in my time, now a great-aunt and still dysfunctional! Happy to be that way.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on December 20, 2019

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