“I think I’m just mourning her childhood”
It’s easy to get caught up in the extreme physical and mental alterations that occur during the life of a child from adolescence to adulthood and forget the parents’ evolution paralleling it so closely. How children age and mature is a direct response to this relationship whether with a suitable role model to aspire towards or difficult figure to evolve in spite of his/her influence. The generation of parents raising children during the 50s and 60s did so very specifically, their decisions steeped in the era’s shortcomings and conservative traditions. The one that followed saw a shift in attitude and dynamic, hybridizing the past’s archaic gender roles and emotional distancing with newfound closeness and deep appreciation. As for today’s parents: their rulebook seems to be rewritten daily.
So while Doug Block‘s documentary The Kids Grow Up positions his daughter Lucy as the main protagonist moving from seven-year old ballerina twirls and ice cream truck driver aspirations to an environmentally-focused eighteen-year old cross-country at college, she’s merely the catalyst. Her evolution into a woman is the cause of her father’s uncertainty towards the future. Lucy embraces this next chapter, moving away to cut her own path while her parents stay behind. They’re the ones affected by this change, the empty nest looming as an adventure two-decades in the making. Whereas Lucy felt the gradual push to spread her wings during that time, Doug and Marjorie remained more-or-less staunch in their dedication to her. For them this shift is as abrupt as a cliff-face, life forever transformed.
Doug therefore becomes the focal point despite never truly being on-camera the same way his family is. We get to know him as a father and a man through the expressions and words of those he’s interviewing—the people who know him best. He pushes them to the brink of emotional duress and they call him out on it, turning the tables to expose his questions less as vehicles to procure opinions and more ways to assuage his yearning to know whether his feelings are abnormal. A fantastic exchange arrives after a lengthy bout of depression on behalf of Marjorie with Doug inquiring whether Lucy’s impending departure triggered it. She very directly explains how that question isn’t about her wellbeing. He’s projecting the source of his sorrow onto her.
On the surface he’s trying to get to the heart of her pain with compassion and empathy, but underneath is his refusal to ask what’s wrong. He may do so off-camera, its relevancy to his struggle as a father losing his only child to adulthood perhaps unimportant. But it’s absence is interesting considering he asks his step-son Josh his opinion on his mother’s depression, knowing the young man had recently seen the birth of his own child. The consensus is that Marjorie’s spells result from massive change yet neither speaks about her becoming a grandmother as the bigger issue when compared to Lucy’s flying the coop. This fact proves that it’s Doug on trial here. It’s his reaction to the depression that’s on display, not the depression itself.
This realization shines the film in a whole new light. Rather than seeing the old silent reels of Doug’s childhood opposite a difficult father who later expresses regret in not being more open (age, experience, and the position of bystander to how different his son raises his granddaughter spark a thawing) as context to a family continuum that eventually moves onto Josh’s contemporary parenting methods of absolute equality (taking a year off of work to be a stay-at-home dad), it’s exposed as a way to see how he feels about each. It’s to provide a means to self-reflexively compare and contrast, wondering if he did it correctly or not. Did he over-compensate and get too attached? Did the camera between them make it so he wasn’t close enough?
Every new action his daughter takes, whether a long-term relationship with a French boyfriend or the decision to leave Manhattan for west coast pastures, becomes the impetus to get Doug’s opinions. In some respects Lucy isn’t very forthcoming throughout this journey except for when she’s a young girl who loves being filmed, blissfully ignorant to how intrusive it becomes later. She generally gives somewhat stock teenager reasons while Mom and Dad extrapolate and express their viewpoints. Lucy’s union with Romain doesn’t ever feel important in the context of her full or broken heart. Instead it creates the forum for her parents to talk about pre-marital sex and pleasure. It allows them the room to decide whether their daughter is truly in love or not regardless of her belief.
The Kids Grow Up therefore becomes a film for parents to relate to and learn from. It’s for children too, but not to experience Lucy’s evolution. Instead I found the movie resonated by seeing how my relationship with my parents compared. I saw myself in Lucy not to remember the trials and tribulations of youth but to recognize her interactions with Doug and Marjorie. Block places parenting on display to be judged, criticized, and accepted in its myriad forms. There’s no right or wrong method. If the child ends up well adjusted and excited for the future, you’ve succeeded. It’s a tough job and just as hard to navigate considering their role is as foreign to them as the child’s. It won’t be perfect, but life never is.
courtesy of the film’s website