THE WAY WE GET BY, directed by Aron Gaudet, 86 minutes. Starts today at UMaine’s Collins Center for the Arts. Showtimes are 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. Friday and noon Saturday. All service personnel and veterans will be admitted free.
Aron Gaudet’s terrific documentary, “The Way We Get By,” explores the best of Maine, certainly the best of those who reside in the Bangor area, and it does so with such skill and insight into the human condition, it’s no wonder it’s winning awards, from a Special Jury Award at the influential SXSW film festival to recently winning the 33rd Cleveland International Film Festival.
Here’s hoping Gaudet, an Old Town native, and his producer, Gita Pullapilly, are prepared for more, because after seeing this movie, there’s no question that additional accolades and awards (perhaps even a shot at the big one) are coming their way.
For the cynics out there, let’s be clear about this review — while it’s swell that the movie focuses on events that continue to take place at the Bangor International Airport, where dozens of troop greeters have greeted nearly 1 million troops since 2003 as they return from or leave for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that isn’t the reason the movie is receiving high marks here. In the wrong hands, “The Way We Get By” could have been sentimental dreck. It could have been mishandled. It could have been overbearing.
It’s none of those things.
The film focuses on three troop greeters — 86-year-old Bill Knight, 75-year-old Joan Gaudet (the director’s mother) and 73-year-old Jerry Mundy. It tells their personal stories while weaving in and out of their self-imposed duties at BIA.
Each is faced with their share of challenges — Bill has cancer and a crushing amount of debt; Joan uses a walker and has a granddaughter about to be deployed to Iraq; Jerry has heart troubles and suffers tragedies not to be revealed here. And yet in spite of their own problems, each understands the personal costs of war and the significance of a handshake or a hug. Along with others, they gathered to show up for each flight that came into and out of BIA, regardless of the time of day.
And that’s the thing about the movie. Much of life, as they say, is just showing up. But how many do so without financial gain and in ways that are meaningful to strangers? The beauty and power of Gaudet’s film is that it reveals how important “just” showing up can mean to those who have been away from their country, family and friends for years, and who enter an airport to be met by cheers and thank-yous for their service by people they’ve never met.
“The Way We Get By” is a movie about moral integrity. Its focus is on those who for no other reason than to do the right thing, show up to do the right thing at such inconvenient times (3:30 a.m. anyone?) that many people would roll over and go back to sleep. It’s a documentary that’s so well done, and so subtle in how it can startle you with unexpected jolts of emotion, that you sit in admiration for its restraint and its artistry. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt movie about people overcoming their own difficulties to make a positive impact on the lives of others.
By the end of the movie, you not only feel as if you’ve come to know Bill, Joan and Jerry, but also that you want to befriend them. And thank them.
Also in theaters
ADVENTURELAND, written and directed by Greg Mottola, 107 minutes, rated R.
The new Greg Mottola movie, “Adventureland,” is one of the best, most satisfying teen-oriented coming-of-age comedies to come along in awhile. It’s an authentic film filled with small details that are so nicely captured, they create a satisfying whole.
The movie serves two demographics — those who grew up in their early twenties during the late 1980s and fondly remember all the possibilities of that time (even if you weren’t aware of those possibilities at the time), and those present-day twentysomethings who just now are finding that out.
Mottola based the movie on his own script, and what he has mined from it is a film of surprising restraint — at least when it comes to the affections that bloom between its main characters, James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) and Em (Kristen Stewart), who find themselves slumming through bum summer jobs at a Pittsburgh theme park called Adventureland during the summer of 1987.
Each are between college — Em soon will be back at NYU and James plans to attend graduate school at Columbia. Beyond that, what they have in common is a quick, understated wit that suggests a fine pairing is at hand if only they can work things out.
In this movie, it’s the supporting characters who provide the antics and the energy, which is a shrewd move on Mottola’s part because it allows James and Em to generate something real during the brief time we spend with them onscreen. Though their romance is budding, each is being pulled in different directions — Em by the married mechanic (Ryan Reynolds) she’s having an affair with, and James by the vivacious Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva, perfect), who recalls any number of second-rate backup dancers for Prince but who nevertheless is coveted by every young man working at the park.
Some will argue that the movie is too slight to be significant and that its characters don’t possess enough depth to be interesting, but they’re missing the point.
“Adventureland” is a slice-of-life vignette designed to offer only a glimpse into something deeper. We enter into it on the verge of one memorable summer, we observe what transpires within those few months, and then we leave the characters on the cusp of change in what you sense will be a more profound story that will play offscreen.
Mottola’s movie has sweetness and relevancy. It’s a movie that understands its characters and their generation, it refuses to condescend to either, and so it just goes along with both, following James, Em and company through the highs and lows of one of those eventful summers you somehow get through, and tend to remember with fondness long after it has passed.
WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.