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Going in Style (1979)
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Going in Style is a 1979 movie (remade in 2017) starring three veteran actors: treasured comedian George Burns, beloved TV star Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg, a legendary New York actor and teacher. A simple concept -- three bored senior citizens try to add some excitement and purpose to their lives by robbing a bank -- leads to a tale rich in character, funny situations, and (spoiler alert) several poignant life-and-death events. Death here is portrayed as a natural outcome of a long life; the grief that accompanies losing a good friend is gentle and respectful. Though the bank robbery includes some gun threats and one gunshot, it's played as comedy, with no real threat or suspense. And, though the men know that their actions are criminal, they intend no harm, justifying their behavior with an outlandish rationale. Characters occasionally swear ("Jesus Christ," "hell," "damn"). There are several references to peeing ("take a leak," "piss pot") and one man accidentally wets his pants.
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What's the story?
In GOING IN STYLE, three longtime friends: Joe (George Burns), Al (Art Carney), and Willie (Lee Strasberg), are getting very tired of spending their days on a park bench in Brooklyn with only the birds to keep them company. Sure, their basic needs are being met. They live in a decent apartment, have three square meals a day, but there has to be more, even for old guys well past retirement age. Joe, always one step ahead of the others, has a thought... What if... What if they rob a bank? It isn't as outrageous as it sounds, not to Joe. On the plus side, banks are insured, they wouldn't really be hurting anybody. If they're successful, think of how much difference a little money would mean to them? And if they fail, they're all looking at a cushy situation. They'll be housed and fed by the state and can save up their pensions for later. It takes a little bit of convincing before Al and Willie are on board. Then it becomes an exciting joint project... after too long, they finally have something to look forward to. "Borrowing" some guns from Al's nephew, with Groucho glasses to disguise themselves, they set off to Manhattan and pull off a successful heist. Energized and engaged by their unconventional experience, the trio is elated, but (spoiler alert) the excitement proves too much for Willie; he dies unexpectedly. Joe's and Al's heightened awareness of mortality, combined with unexpected notoriety because of their crime, motivates the remaining two friends to embark upon an even greater adventure -- to Las Vegas, where they just might evade the authorities who are looking for them, and turn their ill-gotten gains into a mighty fortune in honor of their recently departed friend.
Is it any good?
Of course, it's funny -- with George Burns and Art Carney, two premier comedians at its center, it has to be funny -- but surprisingly, the film has heart, compassion, and stellar performances, too. George Burns, who was in his eighties when he made Going in Style, hits every right note. Foregoing his cigar chomping and usual comic rhythms, Burns, as Joe, is clever and resourceful, but he's also wise, real, and deserving of respect. Art Carney, in his usual lovable bear-of-an everyman, is wonderful. Lee Strasberg, in a far less showy role, delivers as well. But it's the combination of laughs, poignancy, and humanity that sets the movie apart from other caper comedies and sitcom-like characterizations of older folks. The film's sad moments, and there are some, are handled skillfully. Martin Brest (Scent of a Woman, Midnight Run) was a very young man when he wrote and directed this movie. It was an auspicious beginning. Recommended for tweens and up.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Going in Style deals with the fact that its heroes become criminals early in the story. Do you think the filmmakers really intend to show that robbing a bank is an acceptable way to cope with boredom, or is the behavior meant to be an exaggerated, comic metaphor for having a purpose and a love of adventure regardless of age? How does Joe's initial pitch to his friends make the filmmakers' intent clear?
Did you see the remake with Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin before you saw this film? If so, what changes in the characters and the story do you think were made to reflect 2017 culture rather than that of 1979? How did advanced technology affect both the plot and the filmmaking?
What do you think prompts creative people to remake a successful film? How much do you think was dependent, in this case, on having esteemed actors who could play these parts? If you've seen both films, which did you like better? Why?
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