51 Birch Street Reviews
Someone wrote the storyline on IMDB : " Documentary filmmaker Doug Block had every reason to believe his parents' 54-year marriage was a good one."
Really ? Did i miss something?
what did he found in his mother's diaries we didn't know already ?
And beyond the concept of the movie and its argument (some of my favorite documentaries I have disagreed with every word of) I felt that there was not much redeemable of the movie. It explored a mundane, unimportant, and inconsequential family who in my opinion had mundane problems. The documentary didn't even provide many facts, or appear to have done much legwork or research on the issues presented. I wasn't even impressed with the cinematography and production values. It was a generic single camera documentary, consisting mostly of interviews, and devoid of engaging visual effects and music that bring a film to life. The only interesting advanced techniques could be found when they were actually reading the diaries, which I appreciated. Overall, I found it to be little different than a reality show, only replacing people over 100 years old with orange skinned people from New Jersey.
I want to qualify my review by saying that I may have to be a baby boomer to fully appreciate it, and that maybe that's why it was loved by all of the older critics. I can understand that, so I inflated the rating that I would have given to reflect this fact. And the fact that our generation is desensitized to these issues is even more disturbing. Sadly, I feel that the film's conclusion and message will only further gratify and add fuel to the fire of those who find see marriage as something of convenience, and something that can and should be easily entered into and terminated at will.
But then tragedy strikes. Mina catches pneumonia and dies within a fortnight. And no more than four months later, Mike has reconnected with a secretary he knew decades earlier, has married her, and is selling the family house on 51 Birch Street to move to Florida and live with his new wife.
The film documents Block's gradual discovery of his parents' marital secrets through his interviews with his father, siblings and family friends, and, more
importantly, the reading of three full boxes of his mother's obsessively self-absorbed diaries.
"51 Birch Street" is an interesting story of the marital problems of two atheistic Jews (Mike declares himself "within the Humanistic tradition", and Mina was the sexually emancipated, pot-smoking peace
activist), who happened to get married in 1947, right as Kinsey was engineering the sexual revolution in America (his name is not mentioned in the film, but the man must have been behind Mina's reoccupation with "orgasm" and "fellatio", two words highlighted by her son in her diary), and who fell prey to the influence
of the personal Saviour and Redeemer of the modern atheistic Jew: the psychoanalyst ("Everybody falls in
love with their therapist", a lady friend comments at one point.)
As a family mystery, the film is worth watching, just like an episode of the British genealogy series "Who Do You Think You Are?", but I wish Block had tried to delve into the broader socio-cultural currents that impacted on his parents' marriage. Being himself a modern atheistic Jew who shares his parents' basic outlook (he describes himself as "not that religious" and turns to a psychoanalyst for answers), he is only critical of the traditional gender roles and expectations of the 40's and 50's, which bear the blame for whatever may have gone wrong in his parents' marriage, and is very casual about the pathologies of our era - such as drugs, divorce and adultery.
What happens when you stop looking at your parents as your parents, but see them as a man & woman who had/have the same emotions and desires that you do... This film does a GREAT job at making you think differently.
Another question raised is what if you find your mothers journal, and it goes completely against everything you originally thought of her?
And what do you do with it if you are a documentary filmmaker???? Do you share her innermost thoughts with the world for the "greater good"?
Its an awesome movie, where you cant help but see many parts of your own family in it...
I rented it, but I have to buy it now!!!