April 20, 2011

A Life Well Documented

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If you’ve ever gotten annoyed at your parents for taking too many photos of you, take solace in the fact that Doug Block isn’t your father.

The father of 17-year-old Lucy, Cornell graduate Block regularly videotaped his daughter throughout The Kids Grow Up as a way of capturing her life. As she nears college, documentarian Block uses the doc as a way to deal with the expected empty-nest syndrome. The film explores Block’s thoughts, emotions and memories associated with Lucy’s last year of high school and her impending move to California for college.

The Kids Grow Up offers a raw, personal look at Lucy’s childhood, how she developed and how she felt about being videotaped nonstop throughout her life. While Block’s main struggle within the film is coming to terms with Lucy leaving, Lucy is also struggling between accepting her father’s job and hoping for privacy on a day-to-day basis. Lucy’s struggle develops as she enters adolescence and becomes a teenager — a struggle akin to those suffered by many other adolescents; while she enjoyed the attention as a child, she yearns for privacy as she grows older. This dichotomy of interests becomes especially heightened when your father wants to videotape you hanging out with friends or take video of your IM conversations with friends.

Because of her father’s persistence, Block is able to capture Lucy at her best and worst moments. The documentary’s dual story of her father reflecting on Lucy’s upbringing and the tale of Lucy’s life mesh well because Block successfully intermingles flashbacks of her childhood with clips of her high school life. The flashbacks, akin to home video footage, brighten an otherwise melancholy, reflective first-person look at how parents deal with letting their children leave home for college.

While the video clips are virtually unadulterated and organic — especially considering that this is a finished film by an accomplished documentary director — Block’s usage of the clips is what stands out. After asking her similar questions about who she likes and what she wants to become when she was a toddler, pre-teen and teenager, Block melds these clips together to depict changes in Lucy’s personality, maturity, hopes and dreams.

Although told primarily in memoir format, geared toward an air of nostalgia about Block’s relationship with his daughter, he also interviews his parents and relatives about their experiences when their children left for college. These interviews distract the overall flow of the film: while the audience feels sympathy for Block when he outpours his feelings, they only solidify the themes he already implicitly stated. In addition, Block’s monologues over montages of Lucy as a toddler border on characterizing this father figure as self-indulgent — he sees Lucy leaving for college as a form of abandonment, instead of as an experience that he can give Lucy to develop and grow personally and intellectually.

In one scene, his wife Marjorie asks Block why he is so dedicated and sad that his daughter is leaving. This question unearths the backstory of Block’s upbringing. He interviews his parents, childhood friends and reflects on how his upbringing was different from his relationship with his own daughter. His conversations with his wife and his parents uncovered that Block did not have a close relationship with his own father and the fact that he hoped to make up for this by prioritizing his own relationship with his own child. The mere fact that he went through the trouble of videotaping both major, minor and largely insignificant events in Lucy’s life highlights his dedication to her — but also allowed for a more thorough, intriguing glance into their family’s life.

While often serious and wistful, Block’s persistent videotaping of even the most personal moments in his relationship with his own daughter does also allow for cute, funny clips to shine through. In one scene, Block asked Lucy, age 11: “Were you happy as a child?” In response, she looks at him in disbelief: “Dad, I am a child!”

Whether or not your would make a movie about your personal relationship with your own child, The Kids Grow Up is an intimate, moving look at parenthood, relationships and the development of a child from a baby to a teenager. And, in that, The Kids Grow Up succeeds unquestionably.

Original Author: Chris Leo Palermino