Ryan White's affectionate documentary "Good Ol' Freda" taps into the tender roots of the Beatles' radiant run, viewed through the recollections of an unsung member of their organization. For 40-odd years, most of Freda Kelly's friends knew nothing of her role in pop culture history, as secretary to the leaders of the British Invasion and president of their fan club.
White is a friend who learned recently of the connection. He celebrates Kelly's reticence — she still has no interest in dishing dirt — and lack of pretension. His uneven yet engaging film regards her as heroic for not trading in her memories and memorabilia for a mint. Given today's cash-in culture, it's hard to disagree.
Hired at 17, she was in it for the duration — from the Cavern Club to the protracted legal disputes — and beyond, continuing to answer fan mail well after the group's breakup. A no-nonsense Liverpudlian, she was protective of the lads and of the girls who swooned over them, whether that meant guarding band secrets, providing locks from the famous mop-tops or calming those who couldn't bear the news that Paul had — horror of horrors — married.
As sweet as the nostalgia-tripping is, especially for baby boomers, the observations grow repetitious; even some of the evocative stills pop up more than once. But Kelly is good company. Her reminiscences, filled with disarming details, paint a touching picture of the extended family at the heart of the phenomenon. White's film is a love letter not just to Kelly and the Beatles, but also to postwar working-class Liverpool.
"Good Ol' Freda"
MPAA rating: PG for some thematic material and smoking
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes