Tokyo Story

1953, Japan, 136 min.

Director Yasujirô Ozu’s domestic drama unfolds slowly; its emotional impact is timeless. Shukichi (Chishû Ryû) and his wife, Tomi (Chishû Ryû), journey to visit their adult children in Tokyo, a rare outing that is met with little enthusiasm by their preoccupied, selfish progeny. The couple is passed around like an unwanted gift, pawned off on their ex-daughter-in-law (the only one genuinely happy to see them) or relegated to a seaside spa as a cost-cutting measure. Shukichi and Tomi remain unflappable, as if their treatment is a matter of course. Under Ozu’s subtle hand, we learn that in some families, age is a justification for the younger generation to abandon their elders for their own pursuits. The neglected must sustain themselves on the fumes of the past or on the new generation’s success, however meager. As he shows us how small pettiness over time splinters families, Ozu masterfully begs us to be better people.

Breathing Lessons

1994, USA, 93 min.

Before Ira and Maggie Moran (James Garner and Joanne Woodward) begin to travel from Baltimore to Pennsylvania for a funeral, she’s already wrecked the car and he’s gotten an earful from his cantankerous dad. As the day twists and turns into an attempt to reconcile their rudderless son (Tim Guinee) with his long-estranged ex (Kathryn Erbe), the couple bickers, makes up and revisits the ups and downs of their 29 years of marriage. Garner and Woodward are so guileless and comfortable together that it feels like we’re traveling with old friends, with a backseat view into a battle-tested marriage. You win some. You lose some. Most importantly, you have somebody with whom you want to face the highs, the lows and all the unglamorous moments in between. In this quietly charming adaptation of Anne Tyler’s novel, one of the perks of getting older is acquiring the ability to move on.

The Thing About My Folks

2005, USA, 98 min.

Written by and starring Paul Reiser, this comedic father-son adventure opens with Sam (Peter Falk) seeking out his son, Ben (played by Reiser), because Sam has discovered a note informing him that Muriel, his wife of 47 years, has left him. While Sam’s daughters and daughter-in-law begin their search for Muriel, Ben and Sam embark on a trip to upstate New York to inspect an old farmhouse that Ben wants to purchase. What begins as a day trip turns into a much longer journey, giving father and son the opportunity to explore their relationship, issues from the past, and ideas about what makes a good husband. This film is about a family who care for and support one another but also show anger and their fears.

Nobody’s Fool

1994, USA, 110 min.

This slice-of-life story, based on the novel by Richard Russo, takes place in a snowbound, upstate New York town where Donald “Sully” Sullivan (Paul Newman), a 60-something hard-luck handyman, rents an upstairs room from Miss Beryl (Jessica Tandy), his former eighth-grade teacher. Estranged from his relatives for 30 years, Sully finds family in the cast of characters at the local bar until his son Peter returns to town with his own family. Sully is forced to confront issues from his early life and gets a second chance to experience the responsibilities and rewards of parenthood and grandparenthood and to realize that there are people in his life who are more important than he is.

I Never Sang for My Father

1970, USA, 92 min.

In a film based on a 1962 original screenplay entitled The Tiger, written by Robert Anderson, director Gilbert Cates presents a story of conflict between a father and son and the love and obligations that bind them. A widowed college professor just entering his middle years, Gene (Gene Hackman) is struggling to connect with his hard-to-please father (Melvyn Douglas). When his mother dies, Gene must choose between getting married again and relocating to the West Coast or moving into his father’s home on the East Coast to care for him and perhaps finally win his father’s love and approval. This film will enlighten you about parental relationships and the unexpected challenges of midlife.

The Wash

1988, USA, 94 min.

Written by Philip Kan Gotanda, this is the story of a Japanese-American woman in her 60s who, defying the convention that would have her endure an unhappy marriage, decides to leave her husband of 40 years. Eight months after Masi has left her gruff, stubborn husband, Nobu, for an apartment of her own, she starts seeing another man but continues to stop by weekly to do Nobu’s laundry. In time, a new romance blossoms, much to the dismay of Nobu and their two grown daughters. Masi’s request for a divorce so she can marry her new boyfriend is an angry confrontation and we see that for all the happiness of the new couple, the claims of the past weigh heavily.

Harry and Tonto

1974, USA, 115 min.

Art Carney stars as Harry in this comedy/drama about a retired teacher, septuagenarian and widower who is forced to leave his home in New York City to make way for a parking garage. Harry decides to look for a better life. First, he goes to live with his son, Burt, and his family but soon discovers that adding another member to that household is easier said than done. Harry and his beloved cat, Tonto, are off on a cross-country journey to discover their new niche in life. As they make their way west to visit Harry’s daughter (Ellen Burstyn) and son (Larry Hagman), they meet an assortment of characters including a young hitchhiker, a hooker and Chief Dan George. Each new character becomes a part of Harry’s life, placing a special emphasis on intergenerational friendships and on the wisdom of life experience.

Since Otar Left

2004, France (subtitled), 103 min.

Julie Bertucelli directs this film about three strong-willed women—mother, daughter and granddaughter—living together in Tbilisi, capital of the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Eka, the family matriarch, portrayed by 90-year-old actress Esther Gorintin, lives for her son, Otar, a physician who has become a construction worker in Paris. Her middle-aged daughter, Marina, remains a single woman struggling with the disappointments of her life. She is forced to compete with Otar for their mother’s approval. Eka’s rebellious granddaughter, Ada, seeks to break away from the family and embark on her own life. When the two younger women learn that Otar has been killed accidentally, they see chances for their own freedom but decide to conceal this news from Eka, knowing she would be heart broken. As family affections evolve into deception and duplicity, they set in motion events that will change the course of each woman’s life.

Nebraska

2013, USA, 115 min.

Ornery Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is reaching the end of his life with little to show for it, save for encroaching senility and bruised feelings from his family. That’s why he keeps trying to walk from Billings, MT, to Lincoln, NE, to claim a million-dollar sweepstakes prize. It’s a scam, but Woody’s son, David (Will Forte), indulges him. He drives Woody to Lincoln, stopping en route for a family reunion in his father’s downtrodden hometown. The news of Woody’s future “fortune” travels too quickly for David to quash, though he has time to unearth the twisted roots of his father’s churlish behavior. Director Alexander Payne’s (About Schmidt, The Descendants) insightful, bracing comedy-drama profiles an old man’s last grasp for dignity, and the younger man who learns to view his father as a person rather than a burden.

Still Alice

2014, USA, 101 min.

Still Alice tracks a family’s changing dynamics after a life-shattering diagnosis and serves as a showcase for Julianne Moore, whose beautiful, freshly Oscar-winning work allows us to see her family’s struggles as part of the title character’s long, losing battle with herself. The movie proceeds at an uncomfortably languid pace until the end, when we’re shaken. Read more…

Pauline and Paulette

2001, Belgium (subtitled), 78 min.

The relationship among four elderly sisters is portrayed in this film featuring two of Belgium’s greatest actresses. Pauline (Dora van der Groen), 66 years old and severely mentally challenged, is cared for by her sister Martha. When Martha dies suddenly, her two younger sisters, Paulette (Ann Petersen) and Cecile, must decide who will care for Pauline. According to Martha’s will, her fortune will be divided in three equal parts only if one of the sisters looks after Pauline. If they decide to institutionalize her, Pauline will be the only heir. Bickering and upheaval ensue when Cecile and Paulette reluctantly rearrange their lives. You will want to notice how life amidst family caretaking obligations confronts popular beliefs about older women and the mentally challenged.

Danny Collins

2015, USA, 106 min.

The winning, therapeutic Danny Collins teaches us something: namely, that the best things in a long life are usually the least glamorous. Al Pacino portrays the title character—an amalgam of Neil Diamond and Rod Stewart—who long ago abandoned creative integrity for pop-star prancing and all of its goodies—such as a much-younger fiancée, who doesn’t love him, and a mansion with an elevator. When Danny’s manager and best friend (Christopher Plummer, in another fine performance) gives him his birthday gift—a letter John Lennon wrote to a young, confused Danny—the star is struck. What if he had gotten that letter four decades ago? Read more…

It Runs in the Family

2003, USA, 109 min.

Meet the Grombergs, an upper-class, New York City, three-generation family that is slowly falling apart. Alex Gromberg (Michael Douglas) is an attorney enduring a midlife crisis where he’s flirting with idealism and infidelity. His father, Mitchell (Kirk Douglas), faces a world where he is becoming irrelevant. And Alex’s son, Asher (Cameron Douglas), is a perpetual college student incapable of maturity. The proceedings are a bit too hokey and very much disorganized, but having actual family members portraying these roles gives the film an undeniable heft. So does the film’s intent to show how every generation has its own growing pains. Different eras require taking different approaches to life, with ourselves and with those close to us. The latter is especially notable in the scenes involving Michael and Kirk Douglas, who play two characters so stuck in their roles as father and son that being people proves difficult. As for Cameron Douglas, well, he knows all his lines.

One True Thing

1998, USA, 127 min.

At the behest of her father (William Hurt), a writer whom she idolizes, young magazine journalist Ellen Gulden (Renée Zellweger) leaves New York City for the suburbs to care for her sick mother (Meryl Streep), a career homemaker she has little in common with. The months march on. The mother’s illness worsens. The father refuses to adapt to the changing dynamics. And Ellen learns that the roles she had assigned are off: Mom has a strength and grace worth emulating, while Dad’s creativity is an instrument of poisonous narcissism. Carl Franklin’s film version of Anna Quindlen’s best-selling novel is both touching and unsparing in examining how the relationship between child and parents changes over time—and not always for the better.

The Savages

2007, USA, 113 min.

Siblings Jon and Wendy Savage (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney) are tasked with finding an assisted living residence for their aging, dementia-riddled father (Philip Bosco). What would be a difficult task for two functional people is arduous for Wendy and Jon. Not only do the pair have strained relationships with their father, the younger Savages are flaming narcissists who barely have control of their own lives. Writer-director Tamara Jenkins’ comedy-drama is difficult to watch, yet the film is riveting because it deals with the responsibilities and emotional agony of the caregiving process with unflinching candor. Love—especially if you can’t define the word—doesn’t conquer all. Hoffman and Linney, who received an Academy Award nomination for her work here, are outstanding.

A Man Called Ove

2016, Sweden, 116 min.

Yes, a film about an unemployed, 59-year-old widower (the title character, played by Rolf Lassgård) who attempts suicide multiple times is immensely touching. This Swedish box-office smash, based on the best-selling novel, reveals the man behind the growling countenance, who patrols his condominium complex for imaginary violations. During each attempt to end his life, Ove recounts the highs and lows—from meeting his wife to surviving a series of unfathomable tragedies—and what brought him to this precipice. The film reveals the genesis of the bitter-old-person archetype: it emerges through life’s relentless onslaught. Understanding is integral—from everyone. In an ironic development that goes from absurd to touching, younger people keep interrupting Ove’s attempts, reminding him that people need other people. The story frames aging as a mutual act: young and old must make a commitment to appreciate what each offers.