Monday, June 13, 2011

“The Kids Grow Up” (Way Too Fast!)

Documentary Review of The Kids Grow Up by Maggie Hames
A wise woman once told me that for parents, the days are long but the years are short. Doug Block’s latest documentary, The Kids Grow Up illustrates this idea as we watch his daughter Lucy grow from a camera-loving kid to eye-rolling teen to articulate young woman. That’s what happens when your dad is a documentary filmmaker.

The Kids Grow Up’s stated purpose is to document Lucy’s last year at home before college, but this is really about fatherhood, or more accurately, parenthood. Block’s wife Marjorie Silver—also featured in this film—is the clear-eyed parent who knows that when Block turns the camera on her, he’s really looking at himself. She tells Doug that he tends to “visit on me (Marjorie) your own feelings about Lucy going away.” As Block admits in voiceover, nothing prepares you for letting your kids go.

Doug Block’s first documentary was 1991’s The Heck With Hollywood, which I joined as an intern and eventually clawed my way up to Associate Producer; well, not “clawed” so much as “lasted.” That film was a low-budget indie about low-budget indie filmmakers. We were meta when meta wasn’t cool. I knew Doug when Lucy was a toddler who was already being regularly filmed for what was to become The Kids Grow Up. Block has been working on this film for his entire professional career.

Block touches on universal themes but this is a personal and specific memoir. Members of his family regularly tell him off with stinging insights that ultimately reveal the family’s soft center. It’s a love-fest, but that’s the point. The best advice for confronting the passage of time is simply to love each other—alot—and try to appreciate every stupid day. As Lucy very aptly said on her way to get her ears pierced, “The best moment of my life is right now.”

Block seems to yearn for reassurances from even a very young Lucy that he’s a good parent. The end “product,” this document of Lucy as a confident young woman stands as the answer to all of Block’s questions. He and Marjorie obviously parented her well. But this ain’t The Brady Bunch. From a young age, Lucy’s able to converse with Block on almost a peer level and comment on her own childhood while she’s in the middle of it. Which is precisely what Block asks of his subjects: that post-modern comment-on-it-as-you-live-it experience and his extended family is up to that challenge.

Lucy, Marjorie, and stepson Josh Silver are more than the subjects of this documentary; they are the co-filmmakers. They didn’t live with Block for all of those years for free; they’ve learned to speak the language of film, too. Protest as they might, each is at home before the camera as they choose to live important emotional moments in front of the lens when they could easily exit the frame. Marjorie in particular emerges as a brave co-author when she allows Block to film her during a bout of clinical depression—even speaking to the camera from bed—in the hope of destigmatizing this illness.

Lucy’s physical and emotional evolution is stunning in much the way every child’s is, but it’s the theme of parental identity that is at the heart of this work. When the kids grow up and leave, do you still get to be super-parent? Or coolest dad ever? Or wisest mom on the planet? Are you now a has-been? Is it selfish to even ask these questions? The Kids Grow Up offers the suggestion to savor the journey and revel in the process, which is all life allows.

Lucy’s wise beyond her years and that’s at least partly her parents’ doing. Be kind and supportive and you may very well emerge from the journey of parenting with much in the plus column; but it’ll still be over in the blink of an eye. So don’t forget to take pictures.

You can watch The Kids Grow Up at its television premiere on HBO2 on Father’s Day, Sunday, June 19th at 5:15 pm. Other HBO2 playdates in June are the 22nd at 9:30 pm; the 25th at 6:20 am; and the 30th at 3:30 pm. You can pre-order the dvd here, where you can also view the trailer.


  1. I saw this a few months ago, here in the UK, and it's so powerful. An absolutely wonderful film that impacted me on a deep level.

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  3. I also saw the film few months ago at german tv - I was really deep impressed about the respectful contact together and I felt the lust of life and the lust of having children.

  4. So True,

    My Wife and I are expecting our first so I guess we will find this all out for ourselves soon enough.

    A friend of mine wrote a great little blog about this. Funny stuff to keep the kids leaving the nest light and poignant. You can read it at...

    Thanks Again

  5. Geoff--great link. Thanks for sending!

  6. Thanks so much Maggie, filmmaker mother of a very sweet child. ( :