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51 Birch Street
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this documentary is about the filmmaker Doug's parents. His mother dies suddenly and Doug and his two sisters -- adults over 40 -- talk frankly about how they're handling the loss and what they think of their father remarrying three months after her death. Doug reads his mother's diaries and learns about her near-constant unhappiness in the marriage and obsession with her therapist. The possibility of infidelity on both sides is discussed at length. Doug's mother admits to smoking pot while visiting one child at college. There's also a mention of the sexual revolution and what some suburban couples were doing at the time (exchanges, etc.).
What's the story?
Is it any good?
This is a very difficult and rewarding personal journey thoughtful viewers will relish. When Doug is offered 30 years of his mother's daily diaries, he debates about whether or not to read them, and finally does. The entries reveal that she feels overwhelmed and unhappy as a '50s housewife to the typical strong-and-silent type husband. She eventually goes to psychotherapy and falls hard for her therapist; she obsesses both about her therapist and her self-discovery process. She writes intense, introspective poetry.
Interspersed with these revelatory diary entries are interviews with Doug's siblings, recalling how "she wasn't a warm mother" and that poetry they read in the past was their only clue about her richer inner life. They also discuss never spending alone time with their stoic father growing up, and wonder over the "new improved dad" they're seeing now. Doug also talks to his mother's best friend, his mother's brother, and a rabbi. In the process he pieces together a portrait of a difficult marriage of two people who meant well and he cautiously tries to forge a better relationship with his father before he packs up and moves to Florida.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about quite a bit in this movie. Parents can talk with teens about how this documentary looks at marriage and commitment -- in a way you never see portrayed in films and on TV. (It may serve as an antidote to some shows like MTV's Engaged and Underage.) They can also talk about how Doug's relationship with his father developed through the course of the documentary -- how is it stronger now? If your parents had diaries, would you read them if you could? Do you think Doug made the right decision?
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