Friday, January 18, 2008

Best Boy (Movie Review)

He'd been in the hospital for days, recovering from surgery.

When he returned home to his wife of 60 years and his adult (but mentally challenged) son, he hunched over in his favorite chair, his light scowl -- a nearly constant feature -- fading in an instant.

"I missed you," he said to his wife with unmistakable surprise.

"Well, I'm glad you missed me," she said, mixing her tears with a smile. "I missed you too."

She leaned over and kissed his wrinkled cheek, moving up to the bald spot of his head, kissing him again.

But you don't understand, his eyes seemed to say.

"I dreamed about you every night," he said. "I dreamed I was home with you."

Best Boy (1979) may be presented as a documentary about a mentally challenged man learning to become more self-sufficient, but in actuality it's a lot more than that.

It's about a family: the mother, the father, the sister and the brother who passed away long before the director (Ira Wohl, also the man's cousin) let his cameras start to roll. It's about how time has impacted all of the above, the sacrifices the parents made to keep their son at home in an era when most mentally challenged children were shoved into asylums, never to be seen or heard from again.

It's about how the parents who are ashamed to admit mild resentment for all the time they lost by caring for their son, are conversely so enamored with their sweet-but-slow "best boy" that they struggle to ever spend time away from him. And yet: they care about him enough that they try to let him go all the same.

This film could've exploited Philly, and people like him. It could've focused only on him, the camera never lingering on his mother's gray hair, or her stiff walk down the stairs. Or his father's eyes turning down when Philly belts out "As Time Goes By."

But Wohl seems to have appreciated these moments in a way that so many others might've over looked (or dwelled upon — ultimately just as harmful as the reverse). The end result is a beautiful, touching documentary whose biggest shortcoming is the director's own attire (traditional swinger 70s garb, and the mustache to go with it).

It was also a bit too long, but I'm pretty forgiving when the material is compelling.



M@ said...

I am reminded of what I put MY parents through.... They love me, though.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

Awww, M@, did you ride the short bus too?

Pamela said...

Close family member has an autistic son. Their home is totally dysfunctional - and their lives, too.
Oh it is a mess --