A Father Kinda Deals With the Looming Empty Nest in The Kids Grow Up
Its hard to fault Doug Block for being too attached to the past. Hes got an archive of footage drawing him back, and a portable DV posterity-preserver complicating his present. Dont you want to rewind and go back to the fourth grade? a fellow father asks in Blocks The Kids Grow Up, a rhetorical question that the documentarian makes literal with cued-up footage of his once-fourth-grade daughter hopscotching for the camera.
While his last film, the quietly revelatory 51 Birch Street, was an investigation into his parents rocky marriage, his latest is more like a confession, with fatherly anxiety over Lucys impending high school graduation serving as the central narrative and conflict. The bewildered, ambivalent son of the previous film now reluctantly contemplates middle-aged dad-dom. Seemingly modest but stealthily ambitious, Blocks feature-length home movies have a way of spiraling outward just as hes drilling inward, of becoming profoundly universal when most nakedly personal. And despite their candor, the Blocks are less exhibitionistic than welcoming. They make for very dear company.
Block first shows Lucy as a little girl in a pink ballerina outfit, a vision both iconic and particular. Society offers plenty of advice for raising a child, he says via voiceover, but not for letting one go. Cut to Lucy as a tall, dark-haired beauty touring a college campus. Through Dougs eyes, we see her as that teeny ballerina grown up, but its also apparent that shes a compelling adult whom the filmmaker cant fully recognize. His is a subjective eye that invites, from the very outset, our objective and critical participation. The more he trains his camera on Lucyor on his wife, Marjorie, or his father, Mikethe more he reveals about his own obsessions and hang-ups. When he permits Lucy to bunk up with her visiting French boyfriend, he watchfully films their closed door. Whats wrong with hypocrisy? he defiantly asks.
Lucys an only child, but theres a plural noun in the films title for a reason. In fact, Doug often comes across as the least mature person in the room. Everyonefrom Marjorie to his stepson and sisterslectures him (at his prompting) on his unhealthy attachment to the past. Hes also a consistently inept interviewer. So what do you want to be when you grow up? he asks Lucy over and over through the years, to which she often responds with a weary eye-roll. But Doug the enervating character and strangely imperceptive narrator is a great asset for Doug Block the filmmaker. By not having any answers, his first-person filmmaking becomes all about the asking, the searching. He may aim to capture, but, as evidenced by the films elegantly digressive construction, what he really does is complicate.
The flipside of Dougs infatuation with Lucy, which isnt directly explored but rather left for the viewer to ponder with every loving frame, is his ambivalence about Marjorie. He clearly dreads the prospect of Lucy leaving the nest, but hes also anxious about sharing it with his wife alone. In many ways the secret star and conscience of the film, Marjories presence is always felt, a patient witness to Dougs public processing. Very much like its predecessor, The Kids Grow Up is ostensibly about parenthood and memory, but is most revealing about modern marriagethe elephant thats always in the room, the mystery that cant be solved, a shared past that offers little direction for the future. You know that Doug wont find resolution through his lens, yet you keep hoping all the same.
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