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‘Our Souls at Night’ Review: Jane Fonda and Robert Redford Play Nice People in a Nice Romance

Venice: This Netflix drama plays it safe, but the leading players have as much chemistry as ever

A Netflix-and-chill movie for the generation that might have to look up what “Netflix and chill” means, “Our Souls at Night” reunites Jane Fonda and Robert Redford in a sweet, low-key romance that operates best when it eschews plot and just lets us get to know these characters as they get to know each other.

Boasting the kind of star wattage that can’t be hidden under all the bushels of Wal-Mart sleepwear and mom jeans that the film can muster, Fonda and Redford prove, five decades after “Barefoot in the Park,” that they can still generate onscreen sparks. We don’t get nearly enough movies about the love lives, let alone the sex lives, of people over the age of 60, and while “Our Souls at Night” never achieves the dramatic depths of, say, “Hope Springs,” it’s lovely and moving in a decidedly understated way.

Louis (Redford), a widower and retired schoolteacher, rattles around his house, eating frozen dinners and doing the daily crossword in front of the TV. One night, his neighbor Addie (Fonda) drops by; she’d been a friend of his late wife, but she and Louis have never known each other very well. Addie has come over to offer a modest proposal: she and Louis are both alone and lonely, and the nights are the worst. How would he feel about coming over to sleep together? Not for sex, but just the companionship of two people drifting off in the same bed?

After giving it some thought, he accepts her invitation. At first, he comes to her back door, but Addie insists he enter through the front, as she’s tired of worrying about what other people think. (In a clever subversion of an old trope, this film offers a small-town diner where a table full of gossipy old men — with Bruce Dern as their ringleader — pass judgment on everyone’s comings and goings.)

At first, Louis isn’t much of a talker, but soon they both open up about their past regrets: Louis gave up on his youthful dream of becoming an artist, and later he briefly left his wife for another woman before returning home. Addie’s daughter died at the age of 11, and it forever changed her relationship with both her husband and her younger son Gene. The now-adult Gene (Matthias Schoenaerts) soon turns up, asking to leave his seven-year-old son Jamie (Iain Armitage, “Young Sheldon”) with Addie for the summer while Jamie’s parents work on some problems.

Jamie’s presence seems like it might be a crimp in Louis and Addie’s burgeoning friendship, but Louis winds up being a great co-babysitter, getting the lonely boy a rescue dog and taking Jamie and Addie on a camping trip. Once Louis and Addie’s relationship gets physical, the light-on-narrative “Our Souls at Night” — a terrible title, by the way — starts loading on complications that threaten to undo the film’s delicate tone.

Thankfully, director Ritesh Batra (“The Sense of an Ending”) and his cast (including Judy Greer, who gets one great scene as Louis’ daughter) keep us so invested in these characters that plot contrivances don’t get too much in the way.

The screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (“Paper Towns”), based on the novel by Kent Haruf, accentuates the little moments; there’s a great, extended shot of Addie and Louis, a panoply of emotions crossing both their faces as they wordlessly drive home the morning after they’ve had sex for the first time. And there’s something irresistible about the way that a smitten Louis tells Addie, “I just want to live out my day, then come tell you about it at night.”

Composer Elliot Goldenthal’s score leans a little heavy on the bluegrass-lite — although a Willie Nelson song on the radio is a subtle wink to his co-starring role opposite Redford and Fonda in “The Electric Horseman” — and Stephen Goldblatt’s cinematography is functional but unobtrusive. There’s nothing particularly world-shaking about “Our Souls at Night,” but it’s a nice movie about nice people finding love.