The Last Station, Helen Mirren
Credit: Stephan Rabold

You may think it’s just teenagers who can ruin a moviegoing experience, but retirees are equal offenders. When I went to see The Last Station earlier this week and found myself the youngest person in the theater by 30 years — the rest of the 18-49 demo was at home watching American Idol and the Lost season premiere, I presume — I thought it would be smooth sailing. These are refined cinephiles who are here to see two Oscar-nominated performances — Christopher Plummer as ailing Leo Tolstoy and Helen Mirren as his wife, Countess Sofya — and to quietly ponder why James McAvoy received the reverent “and James McAvoy” billing. I’m guessing because as Tolstoy’s secretary, he’s technically the leading man playing both a pawn in the passionate battle between the couple and a virgin contemplating the meaning of love with his own romance, but they didn’t feel right putting his name above Plummer’s. And because he’s equally wonderful in the film. As EW critic Lisa Schwarzbaum has said, “McAvoy specializes in playing inexperienced young men who are quick studies,” and as I noted when his character’s tears had me fighting back some of my own, he’s able to convey such joy that it makes the moments when he’s in pain all the more heartbreaking. Also, he’s a master of the arthouse sex scene.

Anyway, I was wrong equating age with etiquette. Shortly after the film began, a couple seated in the row behind me got up and moved closer to the screen. They sat in their new seats for a few moments, then moved back. There was talking, usually of the “What did he say?” variety from someone whose hearing isn’t quite what it used to be. And at absolutely THE most riveting moment of the movie — since the film is about the final year of Tolstoy’s life, I don’t think it’s really a spoiler to say it involved SOMEONE’S DEATHBED — a cellphone rang until it went to voicemail.

I hope I don’t sound like an ageist. For the record, I love seeing older people at the movies because that’s where I intend to be at their age, and I totally gave the woman with a loud breathing problem a pass because I assume that could not have been helped. I also resisted a colleague’s suggestion to title this post “A guide for the elderly about how to attend the talkies in 2010.” However, I do think people have a right to know what they’re getting into so they can plan accordingly. Maybe you want to go to the late showing of The Last Station ortake a seat in a section you normally wouldn’t if it means you’re out of earshot. If you’re at a theater that’s too classy to run a “Silence your cellphone” ad, as I was, maybe shout “I’m turning off my phone now!” to whomever you’re with as a subtle reminder.

One more thing: Do go see The Last Station.There’s no reason I should be the only one not old enough to be McAvoy’s parent in the theater. The performances are first-rate (including Paul Giamatti’s as Vladimir Chertkov, the Tolstoyan acolyte who becomes Sofya’s nemesis when he urges her husband to leave the copyright to his works to the Russian people and not to his family) and the movie’s got plenty of humor and heart to keep the mood surprisingly light and accessible. Here are the release dates. Below, the trailer.

Photo credit: Stephan Rabold