To gag or to weep, that is the question. You may do both while watching "Unfinished Song," a shamelessly sentimental, manipulative comic tear-jerker about a British chorus, the OAPz (for Old-Age Pensioners); a grumpy old man; and his saintly wife.

Because Arthur, the curmudgeon, and Marion, his angelic "better half," if you'll excuse the cliche, are played by Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave, the movie, originally titled "Song for Marion," has more emotional clout than you might reasonably expect from a piece of inspirational hokum. As usual, Redgrave's compassionate gaze and dreamy half-smile convey several lifetimes of experience.

Written and directed by Paul Andrew Williams, "Unfinished Song" belongs to the school of "The Full Monty" and "Calendar Girls" in its vision of stolid, working-class Britons banding together. Its comic gimmick, borrowed from the documentary "Young@Heart," is the OAPz repertory of rock, pop and rap songs. Watch them as they tear into Salt-N-Pepa's "Let's Talk About Sex" with the gusto of superannuated teenagers.

But when they don heavy-metal gear to deliver Motorhead's "Ace of Spades" at an outdoor concert, they look more than a little ridiculous. There is no escaping the fact that as much as the movie lavishes affection on these singers, it patronizes them by presenting them as likable, jolly old fools.


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The suds machine kicks in from the outset when Marion, who is being treated for cancer, learns she has only months to live. Her fiercely protective husband insists that she stay at home and rest, but Marion, a devoted chorister who is beloved among the group's members, insists on continuing for as long as she can. After she dies, Elizabeth (Gemma Arterton), the chorus's chipper young director, coaxes Arthur to join and participate in a regional choir competition.

Not all the musical numbers are milked for comedy.

Just before her death, Marion sings a wrenching solo rendition of Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors," directed at Arthur, that says more about their relationship than anything else in the film. Once Arthur reveals that he has a voice and overcomes his shyness, he sings Billy Joel's "Lullaby" as a quiet posthumous tribute to Marion.

It may be hokum, but it gets to you.

'UNFINISHED SONG'

* *

Rating: PG-13 (for adult themes and some sexual content)
Cast: Terence Stamp, Gemma Arterton, Christopher Eccleston and Vanessa Redgrave
Director: Paul Andrew
Williams
Running time: 1 hour,
36 minutes