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51 Birch Street

Drama, Documentary
1h 30m
Documentary filmmaker Doug Block had every reason to believe his parents' 54-year marriage was a good one. But when his mother dies unexpectedly and his father swiftly marries his former secretary, he discovers two parents who are far more complex and troubled than he ever imagined. 51 Birch Street is a riveting personal documentary that explores a universal human question: how much about your parents do you really want to know?
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A seemingly normal nuclear family had many deep, dark secrets that came to light only after the unexpected death of the mother. When I read the description for this, I thought it was going to be a documentary about this one particular family. Then I watched it and realized it was a documentary about every family. It's more about human relationships and our attempts to understand those around us. I found it to be really eye-opening and thought-provoking.
There are several documentaries in which the filmmaker endeavours to understand their parents or their childhood, but this movie is superior to most, both because Block does not begin from a position of smugness or resentment, and because the "revelations" do in fact lead to insights and self-exposure (at times unwittingly, perhaps). Also, a genuinely interesting portrait of the times that were lived through and the social milieu that was inhabited.
This one really works you over emotionally, the deeper Block digs into his mother's old diaries. The last half an hour brings about quite a few surprising revelations, and casts members of his family in lights you're not prepared for (how's my attempt at being deliberately vague?). If this doesn't make you think about your life, family, and relationship with your parents, I don't know what to tell you.
Even though it's called out in the film, I have to say that I am not at ease with the idea of someone broadcasting his parent's diaries as fodder for documentary of "self-discovery." This movie bugged me the same way Tarnation did --it's all well and good to find this stuff out about your family and come to terms with it, but why would you want to tell the whole world about it? The insights surely have more significance to Dave Block than to jeff_v.
"The filmmaker's intrusion into the private world of his parents' marriage gets at truths about a generation of men and women." - Ed Gonzalez
Avg Percentile 62.03% from 32 total ratings


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