August 21, 2014

All Together: Rich look at issues of aging

Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help families choose what to watch. This week’s pick is a new film from France, All Together, now showing on screen in New York City and On Demand on cable.

As we age we begin to ask practical questions for which the answers help define the rest of our lives. Where will we live? What if something happens to us? Who can take care of our friends and family? How do we stay connected with our children? And how will we make ends meet?

Earlier this year, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel addressed many of these issues in an entertaining look at the choices retirees may face. And while that film offered insight into the realities of aging, its stellar cast and focused script raised many questions that families must consider. Now a lovely film from France, All Together, reaches beneath the surface to examine the fundamental fears that aging brings.

Jeanne and Albert are a happily retired couple living a comfortable life in a Paris apartment. On weekends they enjoy spending time with their closest friends, the married Annie and her husband Jean, and the single Claude. But Claude recently had a heart attack, Annie and Jean frequently disagree about the basics of life, and Jeanne and Albert face challenges of their own. While Albert struggles with early signs of dementia, Jeanne refuses to share the realities of her own health issues.

Partly on a whim, partly out of love for each other, and partly for convenience, the five decide to live together in the house that Annie inherited. Together they create their own definition of family as they balance the day-to-day duties with the larger life issues that we face as we age. These five friends redefine love, support and relationships as they search for ways to “be there” for each other through all the celebrations and setbacks that come with time. From their relationships we learn what difference real friends can make as life becomes all the more real.

In her first French film in 40 years, Jane Fonda is a revelation as a woman struggling with her own challenges as she tries to make life comfortable for her husband. She coaches a young student — initially hired to walk the family dog — through his life choices as she chooses, for herself, the best way to prepare for her own future. Fonda brings subtle authenticity to every moment on screen in a lovely performance that reminds us how magical an actress she can be. And her French is lovely.

Geraldine Chaplin, absent from the screen for many years, effectively conveys a woman’s sadness as a lady somewhat trapped by the realities of her past and her illusions for the future. Pierre Richard is a somber and sensitive Albert while Claude Rich finds the natural humor in the character Claude’s exaggerated view of his relationships with women. Only Guy Bedos (as Jean) gets a bit tiresome; his whining becomes repetitive and never reaches the dramatic intensity of the other performances.

As with the best of French films, All Together refuses to let the conventions of cinema dictate how to tell its story. Its  chef, writer/director Stephane Robelin, knows his kitchen will be at his best if he lets the food and wine breathe. As a result he serves a delectable delight of a film that nourishes in every way. All Together gives us hope that, no matter what we may experience, we can redefine what the future brings.

Film Nutritional Value:

All Together

* Content: High. The film dares to confront real issues of aging without diluting how serious they may be.

* Entertainment: High. Jane Fonda and Geraldine Chaplin touch our hearts as women trying to juggle all the priorities their lives bring.

* Message: High. No matter what we may face, we get through the day much better when we have friends nearby who provide unconditional support.

* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to explore the realities of aging is relevant to a world where baby boomers aren’t getting any younger.

* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. For the parents, the film offers a glimpse into future issues; for older children, it may open a few eyes of how older people think.

(All Together is unrated with some nudity and language. The film runs 93 minutes.)

4 Popcorn Buckets

The Weekend Movie Menu

What’s on your family’s movie menu this week? Each week, the Reel Dad looks at what is easily available on broadcast television and cable to help you make nutritious choices for what you and your family watch. Take a look!

Choosing what movies to offer your family is a lot like planning what meals to serve. You want to savor something that you enjoy at the same time to nourish the mind, heart and body. Here are a few nutritional movies available this week on television for you and your family.

Headlining this week’s offerings is the brilliant adaptation of the book All the President’s Men starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. No film has ever captured how journalism can impact a nation as this look at the Watergate scandal of the 1970s. This movie says more about the importance of this profession because it never lets itself be about this profession. Instead it reminds us what positive change journalists can create when we follow our instincts, strengthen our craft and face our challenges with intensity of cause and humility of spirit. 

Under the direction of Alan J. Pakula, All the President’s Men recreates a chapter in history when a nation’s embarrassment over the behavior of its president almost topples the institution. Pakula and screenwriter William Goldman paint a detailed picture of how investigative journalists work in the days before blogs and the Internet. These reporters rely on sources, in deep background, as they spend hours trying to capture a few authentic details that may help answer important questions. Pakula’s insistence on movie reality, instead of romanticized dressing, enhances their journey. We experience, because of the director’s choices, a how-done-it instead of a who-done-it made all the more thrilling because we do know what will eventually happen. The film shows on Turner Classic Movies on Friday, Oct. 26, at 10:30 p.m.

Another great director, John Frankenheimer, brings the tension of the cold war of the 1960s to the screen in the tight military thriller Seven Days in May. At a time in our history when fear reached every neighborhood, the film dares to question the accountability of our leaders to maintain public calm while protecting public interests. Frankenheimer doesn’t shy from sustaining a clear point of view throughout the narrative. With such veteran actors as Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in his cast, the director makes the most of the entertainment potential while asking us to think about the content. And the film, even though made in 1964, plays as well today as when it was first released. Look for Seven Days in May on Turner Classic Movies late Friday night at 1 a.m. Or, better yet, set your DVR!

For anyone who spends time on Facebook, The Social Network offers an entertaining behind-the-scenes look at its origin. This film delivers a juicy peek into what can happen when people with too many brains, and too little sense, get together to develop an idea with too much potential. While it doesn’t pretend to deliver an exhaustive study — since it’s based on documented legal testimony — the film tells us more about what may have happened than we have heard before. And it delivers solid entertainment along the way. 

What makes the film so nutritious is the way it carefully layers its insight and messages, as if creating a multi-phased experience. At first, we think we may experience a simple story of college students who think up a new idea. We quickly realize, however, that their story is more complicated that we originally thought. And, once we see how ambitious these young people actually are, we begin a journey into just how far people will go to protect their interests, disguise the truth and manipulate events for their own gain. We may, ultimately, not learn all that much about what made Facebook legendary, but we learn a great deal about how some people succeed or fail at handling success.

Serving nutritious movies can be as easy as turning on the television. And be sure, as you watch together, to share what you observe, question and consider. Watching movies together can prompt valuable family discussions.