Sep 30, 2019

Multi-generational movies rocking movieland

It’s interesting how, sometimes, some things come in threes, or twos. The most recent article that I wrote for HelloCare, for example, was about two movies which I saw in quick succession, and which – while very, very different in time and place – had a shared message supporting the notion that it’s better late than never when it comes to conflict resolution between family members, or friends.

And this time, it’s about two more movies that I’ve seen recently, and in sequence, which also have a significant link, while being very different in most other ways. What they have in common is that they are both well and truly multi-generational views of family, with each generation being given a reasonable amount of exposure and emphasis on screen. And in both films this includes a significant and touching relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter, both of whom in both movies, are the main stars.

In their plots and their cultural settings, however, the films could not be more different, and each is fascinating in its own right. I’m talking about Downton Abbey, British to its 30s bootstraps, and Farewell, which is set in modern day China and tackles evolving differences between Chinese family members living in Asia versus those who have moved to the USA.

As someone who had only seen Series One of Downton Abbey, and that a long time ago, there was the question of whether I could follow the intricacies of the plot of a movie that is set some time after the final series. Happily, I can reassure others in the same boat that, while there were a few unfamiliar characters, how they fitted in became pretty clear quite early on, after which it was all plain sailing, with the voyage being a total delight to a dyed-in-the-wool Anglophile like myself. I don’t want to put in any spoilers, for either movie, so suffice it to say that the setting for this one is lush, the characters engaging, the story lines satisfying, and the vintage dresses a delight.

And both upstairs and downstairs there is a very nice range of ages and accompanying story lines and plot twists for both genders, as everyone prepares for the visit of the King and Queen. I can only speak from an older person’s perspective, but it does seem to me that such a film would appeal to a broad cross-section of those amongst us who like deliciously romantic scenarios with a light touch.

Before going on to Farewell, I should mention that both of these films had the bonus, for me, of having a link with my early life. My Anglophilia had its origins in the British children’s books that were my staple diet as soon as I could read. And that happened at around about seven years of age, in my first year in Australia, having lived in China until then, as I was born in Beijing (then Peking) of Hungarian parents. And had been able to speak fluent and now totally forgotten Chinese.

So, of course, it was fascinating for me to see a film depicting normal family life in China today, and how that could be the basis for some very different values being held by family members living there, versus those who had long ago migrated to and absorbed American ways. And since it was clear early on that these differences were a key element of Farewell, it’s not a spoiler to mention that aspect of the film. At the same time, making the point about the problem with spoilers, unfortunately this was a film to which I came with far too much knowledge, as I’d heard in detail about the podcast of the real life situation that was the basis of the movie, and had also read a four star review detailing far too much of the plot (note to reviewers: it is possible to review a performance without doing that!). That had the effect of my waiting for key events that had been mentioned, which is not the best way to enjoy a movie.

Unfortunately, too, this one moved far more slowly than I felt was necessary (but others with whom I saw it did not have a problem with that, so horses for courses). And the key figure of the granddaughter – as played by actor Awkwafina – was a chronically morose character, which gradually wore a bit thin for me. Certainly, however, it showed that she could play a range of moods, as this was in sharp contrast to her bubbly and almost manic role in Crazy Rich Asians. And, nonetheless, her relationship with her grandmother was close and loving throughout.

And overall, what was highly enjoyable in both movies were the interactions between – and the perspectives of – people of different ages living in close proximity. It is to be hoped that we get more of such films, showing the possibilities of warm positive intergenerational relationships as an important aspect of our modern times, when people are living longer and healthier lives, with the benefit, too, of the young being more likely to be able to continue being close to their grandparents and – increasingly – to their great grandparents, as they are growing up.

And through movies such as these, it’s good to see evidence of possibly, albeit slowly, changing times in movieland, despite recent observations made by 60-year-old actor Andie McDowell, in The Guardian. She described how, a month before the interview with its journalist, she had “heard a male actor (‘I’m not going to say who’) say: ‘People go to movies to see men, not women.’ Did she challenge him? ‘It didn’t feel like I was going to change him,’ she sighs. ‘There are a lot of people [in Hollywood] that still push that way of thinking. That is what they think. They’re going to continue to think it. They’re going to continue to push it. Even if a story is about a woman, they’ll cast the male lead first because they believe people do not care about seeing women. Even women, they’ll say that women and men go to the movies to see men.”

These two films – as those who go to see them will see – certainly give the lie to that, in more ways than one.

Anne Ring ©2019

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