Close this search box.

Golden Years Movie Review

Esther Gemsch floats on a flamingo-shaped air mattress in the film Golden Years

Golden Years is a German language movie about growing old and making peace with your life while finding the courage to live authentically.

If you liked “Book Club” or “Book Club: The Next Chapter”, there’s a good chance that something in Golden Years will speak to you. A comedy with less raunch but with some exceptionally provocative moments, Golden Years is about regrets in life and not having them.

Peter (Stefan Kurt) and Alice (Esther Gemsch), our protagonists in this Swiss but German language film, have been seemingly happily married for many years. They have two children together and a heap of grandchildren. We meet them as they are on the cusp of change in their life: Peter is retiring after a long career working. There’s some cheekiness with the retirement announcement: Peter is informed, as a matter of fact, that his former office will be a server room. In any case, Peter’s retirement heralds many changes for the couple. A party celebrating the next stage of life features many old friends and gifts, one of which is a cruise through the Mediterranean.

The couple’s pent up frustrations, revealed by retirement, come to a head when a very close friend dies suddenly while on a hike with Alice. The death and the secrets revealed by the friend’s death stir up all sorts of feelings about life and other heavy topics for the duo. Peter and Alice are forced to deal with whether or not they are actually happy. Suffice it to say, Peter and Alice have cruise ship-sized problems in their life together that  come to a head when they’re forced to spend time with each other. Over their many married years, they have drifted apart, and retirement (much like babies for younger couples) isn’t a magic cure-all for relationship ills. 

Things just get worse for Peter and Alice when Peter invites Heinz (Ueli Jäggi), the widower of their dearly departed friend, on their romantic cruise. Instead of Peter and Alice spending couple time together, it’s Peter and Heinz. Alice, increasingly frustrated with Peter’s attitude, finally has enough and doesn’t return from an excursion in France. Both Peter and Alice play relationship head games with each other, but ultimately, they set upon their paths towards meaning. For Alice, it’s a magical yellow sundress mushroom trip with a random couple in an RV and a commune of friends of Claude. For Peter, it’s realizing his own fragility and how his self-absorption has failed those he cares about in his life, namely his daughter. Susanne has a drinking problem and her life is crumbling around her. Through their individual “time outs,” Peter and Alice decide what is important to them in their lives.

Neither Peter nor Alice are perfect, and that’s okay. We, the audience watching, are not perfect either. As we see both of these older adults struggle with their own demons – Peter’s desire to feel safe and Alice’s wish to live more fully – most people can find something there to empathize with. Even if you’re young, there’s a message worth considering in Golden Years – and that is never too late to live your authentic life. That may not translate to finding a lesbian commune or a recently widowed new male best friend, but you never know. 

Esther Gemsch and Stefan Kurt hug each other posing on a boat in Golden Years
Esther Gemsch and Stefan Kurt in Golden Years (Music Box Films)

The premise of Golden Years is not especially new, but it moves along, buoyed by beautiful cinematography and lively music that makes up for any issues with the story. The whole vibe of the film will make you yearn for summer and sunshine. The slower, occasional awkward moments are mere blips in the wave wake of the Costa Esmerelda. The more serious emotional moments, especially between Peter and Alice and their adult children, are held and handled with care by director Barbara Kulcsar and screenwriter Petra Biondina Volpe. 

Both of the primary actors in Golden Years bring something special to their performance and fully inhabit their roles. They are utterly believable as an old married couple in distress. Stefan Kurt, who plays Peter, is an award-winning Swiss actor who has had a long career but may not be familiar to US audiences. Peter is much older than Kurt, but Kurt captures his character’s worries and, at times, panic admirably on screen. Esther Gemsch equally holds her own as an, at times, bewildered Alice as she discovers the world. As a woman, I could feel Alice’s frustrations about her life and relationship because of Esther’s great performance. There was such vulnerability in what she brought to the screen, especially in moments with her Tinder-obsessed son, Julian, played by Martin Vischer. 

Much of the comedy in Golden Years comes from the supporting characters. Ueli Jäggi and Gundi Ellert are brilliant as Heinz and Michi. Jäggi is more of a constant source of comedy throughout the film. Heinz and Peter’s onscreen friendship is lovely, with Jäggi moving seamlessly from oblivious third wheel to semi-scorned best friend. Michi’s arrival on the scene is similarly well done. 

What’s clear from Golden Years and other similar-minded comedies with older generations square in their target audience is that growing old isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s sad, funny, and absurd at the same time. And sometimes, it’s OK to take a time out and figure out what’s next. There’s a satisfying and altogether perfect happy ending at the film’s conclusion, but just like in life, it may not be exactly what you bargained for.

Golden Years will be released in select US theaters on February 23, 2024 and on digital platforms from March 26.

Golden Years: Trailer (Music Box Films)
Thank you for reading us! If you’d like to help us continue to bring you our coverage of films and TV and keep the site completely free for everyone, please consider a donation.