Golden Years, written by Petra Volpe and directed by Barbara Kulcsar, is an incredibly simple, comfortable piece of work. It concerns the plight of a long-married couple: Alice (Esther Gemsch) and Peter (Stefan Kurt). At Peter’s retirement party, their children gift them with a luxurious cruise vacation. Alice is looking forward to it. Peter is not. Then, all of a sudden, Alice’s best friend Magalie (Elvira Plüss) dies. Her husband Heinz (Ueli Jäggi), Peter’s best friend, is distraught. In a fit of sympathy (and perhaps selfishness) Peter invites Heinz to join them on the trip. Alice, of course, does not approve. It’s one of many budding fractures in a union that may break with more time spent together. Alice quickly realizes this cruise will not strengthen their marital bond. It will, in fact, do the opposite.

Despite the impending doubt, fear, and sadness that will surely come, this film’s aesthetic is bright and welcoming. There are jokes throughout and an elevated pace plays more to its comedic instincts. Golden Years runs less than 90 minutes before credits. The fuel of the whole thing comes from Gemsch and Kurt doing complex, nuanced work. These two leads elevate characters that run the risk of caricature. And credit to Volpe and Kulcsar: at different points wherein the film appears to be slipping into sitcom territory, a decision is made that deepens the narrative or, at the very least, feels somewhat unexpected.

Jäggi does well enough as the third lead and presumptive third wheel, though he is undercut by the script quite a bit. Frankly, all of the supporting characters are. There’s a hippy-ish couple introduced halfway through the picture that come and go with nary a care, offering only the thinnest of connections to the larger plot. Without overly spoiling the second and third act, Alice makes a sojourn across Southern Europe that opens her mind to alternate possibilities for long-term relationships. This, plus a deathbed secret courtesy of Magalie. And while there is a narrative convenience to all of these developments that plays as a bit contrived, the point it’s driving towards is worth the shortcuts.

There are intriguing B- and C-plots concerning Alice and Peter’s children that are mostly left for dead in favor of a cleaner focus on the parents and a niftier resolution. This is less of a criticism than it is an observation. One wonders if the whole of the picture would’ve benefited from more interaction between generations. Ultimately, Golden Years stays leans and decidedly not mean. The tone is snug and pleasant, the frames unobtrusive and patient. In the third act, Kulcsar’s ultimate ambition reveals itself and its fittingly adventurous for a film wherein adventure is simply a vacation worth taking. If only life were that easy!

Golden Years opens in theaters on Friday, February 23.

Grade: B-

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