Perhaps some of the most iconic images of rock music aren't even about the music, but about the fans—grainy black and white footage from the early years of the '60s; teenage girls shrieking for the Beatles as if possessed. And, in a time before Facebook "likes," when managing a fan club meant much more than updating a website, demanding the hands-on work of grabbing autographs and hand writing letters was a very calm, entirely ordinary teenager named Freda Kelly. At first self-appointed, and ultimately a paid staff member, Kelly managed the Beatles fan club for a decade-plus, longer than the Beatles were even a band; and, during which time she served as perhaps the most direct and personal connection between fans and the band members.
Good Ol' Freda is a languid, sweet-natured film that profiles this very ordinary woman who was in the middle of a very odd moment in music history. Like most stories about the Beatles, the movie moves chronologically through the familiar storyline—four young boys from Liverpool catalyzing into a pop phenomenon, their music changing with changing times, and finally going their four separate ways. As the filmmakers carefully sidestep any real controversy or new material, Good Ol' Freda emerges as more a character study about Kelly's integrity and loyalty than a true rock-and-roll movie, or even a true documentary. Sure, there are moments that hint at deeper conflicts and interest—like when Kelly reveals that she still works six days a week and never really profited from her treasure troves of Beatles paraphernalia. "I could have been a millionaire, if I'd kept everything," she notes without much emotion. But, more often than not, the storyline stalls out after presenting a promising idea or hints at something deeper, and quickly scampers back to the familiar there-were-four-boys-from-Liverpool story.
Even so, Good Ol' Freda is a pleasant film. A lot like listening to a modestly interesting relative spin yarns at Thanksgiving, the film spends much of its time sitting with Freda Kelly in her living room and kitchen as she treads over the decade of her life that stretched between being fawning teenager to a slightly wiser 30 year old woman with her first child.
In recent years, the Beatles story has received some new zing with films like Across the Universe (2007) re-organizing the familiar hits and the well-acted Nowhere Boy (2009) that probed at Lennon's unfulfilling relationship with his mother. Good Ol' Freda is not one of those fresh films, but it also isn't boring for anyone with a fair-to-middling interest in the Beatles—and, probably intriguing for anyone who hasn't yet tired of playing "Rubber Soul" a gazillion times.
dir. Ryan White
Opens Wednesday, Nov. 27