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FOR GROWN UPS
Many of the most
interesting and engaging films deal with family relationships.Here are
reviews of a number of films that provide insights into the worlds of
parents and their children.
Squid and the Whale
Is it Dad’s day or Mom’s?
I know of no other movie that deals so realistically with the ways that
kids grapple with aftermath of a divorce. The beauty of this film is how
it shows a familiar occurrence from the point of view of the two kids,
one boy just entering adolescence and the other firmly rooted in its midst.
As they try to adapt to circumstances neither has chosen, the boys select
sides. The older son strains to find a role model in his defeated, self-involved
father and the younger son seeks solace with his self-involved, but still
nurturing, mom. The characters are multi-dimensional, and while the perspective
is the kids’, the flawed parents are portrayed with enough depth
that their plight evokes some empathy as they struggle to assuage their
own guilt and provide for their still stunned sons. Laura Linney and Jeff
Daniels are inspired in portraying 1980’s parents! (I.S.
of the Penguins
Think you're a devoted parent? Penguin Moms
and Dads overcome unbelievable hardships to hatch and protect their young.
The march makes human parenting look like a stroll in the park- on a balmy
day. The documentary is a riveting look at nature, and how instinct prevails.
Like Winged Migration, this film will fill you with awe. (I.S.)
When an "aging Don Juan bachelor," played by Bill Murray, receives
a letter saying he has a son he never knew about, he sets off on a search.
The prospect of fatherhood triggers new feelings in him as he observes
the current lives of former girlfriends, and imagines himself caring about
someone besides himself. (I.S.)
One of the best things
about this film about Ray Charles is Ray's mother who prepared him for
life as a blind person by encouraging his independence. This is a film
and a half, with great music sung by Charles; great acting by Jamie Foxx
and an inspiring story that touches on the history of music, race and
religion in the US over the past 60 years.(I.S.)
After watching My Architect, an 80- year- old stranger sitting next to
me shared the story of how her own thrice- married father and she were
estranged during most of her childhood. Maybe the reason this documentary
quest strikes such a chord in viewers, many of whom have seen it more
than once, is that it raises basic questions of what it means to be a
father and what it means to be an artist. Nathaniel Kahn sets out to learn
more about his father, architect Louis Kahn, and discovers a complicated
man, committed to creating enduring monuments while juggling relationships
with his three separate families. Kahn is variously described as a nomad,
a child, secretive, and a visionary. Architects Philip Johnson and I.M.Pei
praise Kahn's artistic integrity. The women with the most reason to be
angry at Kahn explain, lovingly and apparently sincerely, how he enriched
their lives. Visiting Kahn's buildings, at Yale, Philips Exeter, Salk
Institute, and in Bangladesh gives Nathaniel insight into his father's
artistic journey. The differing perspectives about Kahn are not summed
up for us. Instead, viewers, along with Nathaniel, get to form their own
opinions. (I.S. 3/3/04)
Jim Sheridan and his two grown daughters wrote In America based on their
own experiences coming to New York from Ireland in the 1980's . The sisters
who play the young daughters are totally believable -- the older as a
dreamy observer and the younger as a delighted enthusiast. Seeing the
U.S. through the eyes of the children is the joy of this film. The parents,
struggling with grief over the loss of a young son, are muted in their
responses. But the girls' curiosity and thoughtful consideration of everything
from Halloween, to New York apartment living; from a heat wave to their
actor father's despondency gives In America its voice and point of view.
The family's friendship with their ailing neighbor, a painter, moves the
plot and nudges the family to new understandings. In America is a film
about how family members adjust to an unfamiliar setting, cope with the
bleakest of times, and despite many setbacks, provide each other with
the support and strength that promote healing. I.S. 3/3/04
Girlhood, an independent documentary by Liz Garbus, follows the lives
of two teenage girls getting ready to leave a detention facility. What
is both surprising about Girlhood is the complexity and closeness of each
girl's relationship with her mother! The mothers couldn't be more different.
One is a drug addict who has spent years in jail; the other is a self-sacrificing
working mom who virtually hovers over her rebellious daughter. Over the
several years that the film was shot both girls mature emotionally. Girlhood
is a glimpse into a world most of us never see on film. Just as Hoop Dreams
followed the lives of real life teen boys, Girlhood follows the lives
of young women struggling to find a place in the world. I.S. 3/3/04
Triplets of Belleville
An intrepid granny and a trio of elderly singing sisters pool their ingenuity
to save the bike racer grandson in this amazingly animated, madcap adventure.
The four heroines of The Triplets of Belleville may all be senior citizens,
but are nevertheless brave, strong and focused. The granny makes good
use of her elevated shoe, "the triplettes" dance rhythmically, and one
wields a mean frying pan.
What stands out most is the quality of the animation; caricature in the
very best sense of the word. The fat are gloriously obese, the muscular
ripple, the lean are emaciated and the bent curve like Cs. Visual exaggeration
is used to express emotion so effectively that there is never a moment
when we aren't keyed in to what the creator, writer, animator Sylvain
Chomet is trying to say. His visual commentary ranges from the political
to the canine; for even granny's dog has aspirations. Yet the messages
are often subtle and multilayered. They draw on a rich history of animation,
and remind us why a picture can be worth a 1,000 words. This is a film
that will inspire viewers of all ages by exploring the power of animation.
The Triplets draws on motion, music, and the impact of expressive line
drawing to make us gasp, flinch and laugh. I.S. , CreativeParents Review,
The dialogue and acting work beautifully in this character study of three
people, all in transition, who eventually connect with each other despite
themselves. Fin, a railroad buff, is a dwarf whose sense of dignity, privacy
and self-protection are beautifully conveyed by the actor Peter Dinklage.
Joe, played by Bobby Cannavale, is totally believable as a cute, friendly
guy who needs to be around people; we've all met him. Patricia Clarkson
does a powerful job of playing a recently separated wife, grieving for
her deceased young son.
The Station Agent is about the ways that people distance themselves, and
the shared experiences that bring them together. It is filled with what
visual artists call "negative space, " for it is the waiting, the silences,
and the withdrawals of trust that make the gradual connections especially
effective. We are mesmerized as the characters gravitate toward one another
like magnets pulled by some unseen emotional logic. The film has great
integrity. No false notes. The Station Agent resonates like a clear bell.
I.S., CreativeParents Review, 11/30/03
Be and To Have
Georges Lopez has his hands full, teaching children from age 4 to 12 in
one room in a farm village school in France. You'd never know it from
his demeanor. Calm, supportive and well-organized, he listens to his pupils,
understands their differences and instructs them with patience and empathy.
To Be and To Have, an award-winning documentary, is captivating and eye-opening.
As viewers, we get to know Olivier, struggling with his father's illness;
the painfully shy Nathalie and the younger kids; JoJo, Alize and Marie.
Each child's personality and learning style is distinctly revealed. We
also see parents struggling to help children with homework, sometimes
an effort that involves extended family.
To Be and To Have does not have a traditional plot, but because we care
about Monsieur Lopez and the kids we watch with fascination as the school
year unfolds. The visually beautiful film is a tribute to a talented teacher
and shows how kids, including some with real challenges, are most likely
to thrive when they are treated with respect. I.S., CreativeParents Review,
April's mom, Joy, is clearly ambivalent about her wayward daughter. She
claims she has no positive memories of April, yet Joy is dressed for Thanksgiving
and waiting in the car before other family members are even awake. The
film's tension centers around a difficult mother-daughter relationship.
April has always been "trouble" and seems even more so in contrast to
her goody-goody younger sister. Yet it becomes clear that April and her
mom have more in common than it first appears and are both, in their own
The story revolves around April's attempt to create a Thanksgiving meal
for her parents and two siblings, whom she's invited to her tiny apartment
in New York. Katie Holmes plays April, who favors black nail polish, tattoos
and punky make-up. When the oven doesn't work April must figure out a
plan that involves an assortment of New York neighbors. April's mother,
played by Patricia Clarkson, is spirited despite being debilitated by
advanced cancer. Peter Hedges wrote Pieces of April as a tribute to his
own mother, who died of cancer. This is a movie about family and reconciliation.
Often very funny, it looks at a potentially sad topic through a refreshingly
inventive lens. I.S., CreativeParents Review, 11/30/03
Among the films released within the last few years were some that dealt
with parenting and family themes in a compelling way. Here are a few of
is a playful homage to the way creativity and imagination can be used
to do good and have fun at the same time. Amelie, the only child of a
set of astoundingly quirky parents, grows up into a lovable eccentric.As
an adult she sets out to improve the lives of people she knows, as well
as those she hasn't yet met. She puts together a set of video clips that
provide her house-bound neighbor with a glimpse into the outside world.
She returns abandoned toys to a former tenant in her apartment building.
Through many plot twists she uses her intelligence to solve problems,
and finds love in the bargain. (In French, English subtitles)
Ball is a serious
and sad film that deals with some of the tragic complexities of parent-child
relationships. Halle Berry's performance reflects both the fierce attachment
and frustration her character feels for her son, as the two of them face
overwhelming loss. Billy Bob Thornton plays a father and a son discovering,
well into adulthood, that he is a different person than he'd always believed.
touches on the difficulties of a family faced with a parent's mental illness.
While much of the film focuses on John Nash's struggle to maintain his
abilities as a mathematician, there are scenes that show how justifiably
terrified his wife is to leave him alone with their baby. This film portrays
a little- discussed issue with honesty and empathy.
As we add to our list of
films, here are two good ones from a few years back:
Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy is
about Gilbert and Sullivan at a low and a high point in their collaboration.
The low point is when Sullivan decides he no longer wants to write music
with his longtime colleague. The high point is when they subsequently
write and produce the "Mikado."
The film is a terrific glimpse into how artists derive their inspiration
and how ideosyncratic collaboration can be. It's also a great reminderof
the timeless quality of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. The word "delightful"
often gets misused, but unquestionably applies to Gilbert and Sullivan.
While the film is too long and too explicit for kids under 13, parents
would do well find others ways to introduce their kids to such treasures
as "The Mikado" and "H.M.S. Pinafore." There's a CD
of the soundtrack for the film, and of course countless other recordings
A favorite moment in the film is when Gilbert's supportive but lonely
wife wistfully muses how nice it would be if, at the end of every day,
each of us could get a round of applause for our accomplishments-- for
a job well done.
Drawing on Jane Austen's book,
her early letters and journal, Patricia Rozema has created a film that
is both wry and lively. It's also an examination, and ultimately a validation,
of such worthy values as honesty and integrity.
It reminded us of the excellent French film "Ridicule," which
also places a thoughtful but believably human protagonist in a society
rife with pretentious people in a soul-destroying setting. In each the
hero stays the course and, ultimately triumphs through intelligence and
Again, this film is not for young children. But it is a film that will
renew a parent's faith that it's worth making the effort to instill solid
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