The Kids Grow Up (Director: Doug Block): Personal filmmaking at its rawest, The Kids Grow Up is something of a follow-up to Doug Block’s previous film, 51 Birch Street. In the earlier film, Block explored his parents’ marriage and how his mother and father’s choices had affected him and his sisters as adults. It was also a film about getting to know your parents as people and not just as the roles they played in your upbringing. In his latest film, he explores how his daughter Lucy’s impending departure for college is affecting him and his wife Marjorie. Both films are about letting people break free of their familial roles, but in this one, it’s less about uncovering a mystery and more about dealing head-on with the passage of time.
Since he is a documentary filmmaker, he’s been filming his daughter since she was a baby and so he has an abundance of material to show her growing up. I particularly liked a sequence where from behind the camera, he asks his daughter, then 10 years old, “How was your childhood?”. The quick-witted Lucy doesn’t miss a beat. “Daddy, I’m 10 years old. I’m still a child!” The director isn’t quite as self-aware, at least until it dawns on him that Lucy’s leaving home must signal the end of his own arrested adolescence. In his zeal to be the polar opposite of his own distant father, he’s become his daughter’s “buddy” and is feeling her very necessary separation from him as abandonment. To make matters worse, Marjorie, who had seemed more at ease with the transition, suddenly suffers a major depressive episode and can barely leave her bed for several months. Doug’s helplessness during this period made me think that his real anxiety over Lucy’s departure was about how his relationship with Marjorie would change. They would no longer have Lucy as a shared focus, but would instead be back to focusing on each other.
The Kids Grow Up is a wonderfully-edited film that documents an important time in the life of Lucy Block, but more importantly, it documents a time of maturation for her father. Lucy comes across throughout the film (even as a young child) as remarkably self-assured and independent. We know that she will be fine at college, and wherever she goes after that. But along with her father, we mourn her childhood a little bit, knowing that she has to leave it behind. She doesn’t need the film to help her grow up, but we come to realize that it’s an important milestone for Doug. In mourning her childhood’s passing, he’s also mourning his own, but it helps him enter into a new phase of adulthood. By the end, he’s even becoming more comfortable calling himself grandfather to his stepson’s little boy. When I first heard the title of this film, I thought it was just an expression that parents used when they spoke to each other. But I came to realize that in the case of Doug Block and his daughter Lucy, he was talking about two kids, his daughter and himself. And it’s almost as much fun watching the father grow up as the little girl.