The Film Club
Date of Publication: 6 May 2008
Cover Price: $21.99
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Reviewing The Film Club presents different dilemmas than I typically face with a memoir. I suspect most criticism focuses on David Gilmour's entirely permissive parenting style. That becomes a debate all its own that gets away from the subject of this one specific memoir. Confining myself to just The Film Club, however, I have to say that I didn't turn a single page without rolling my eyes or wanting to slap someone.
I think for me the underlying problem I have is that at no point do I get the sense that there's any meaningful growth for anyone involved. Gilmour himself seems only partly self-aware, knowing there is a big picture to life but having no idea what it is or even demonstrating much curiosity to learn. His son Jesse is obsessed with his girlfriends - themselves self-indulgent flakes. Whenever Jesse shows the slightest interest in maturing, it occurs in a vacuum. It's never attributable to anything his father has said or done; it's always something that originates within, but then when he expresses it, his father stays hands-off for fear of quashing it. I understand the point about not micromanaging someone's growth, but there is also something to be said for offering guidance and Gilmour flees from that role at every turn.
Instead, he wants to be Jesse's BFF. Several times, he remarks how "beautiful" his boy is, almost like he's got some kind of weird crush on him. It's one thing to fawn over one's own offspring, but Gilmour's chronicle of Jesse's love life devolves from parental curiosity to living vicariously through his son. Worse, whenever Jesse comes to him with questions, time and again he lies to avoid saying anything that might upset his son. Early on, Jesse expresses concern that as a high school dropout, he may not have a good life. David doesn't use that opportunity to say, "That's the trade-off you're making by being a dropout. Maybe you want to reconsider?" Instead he lies to his son, saying, "You're going to have a great life. I know it!" Are you kidding me? I loathe dishonesty, especially to children and about important matters.
Later, when Jesse is going through one of his numerous heartbreak cycles, he asks his dad his opinion about the girl. By now, he's picked up on the fact his dad only ever offers him disingenuous appeasement. When David says he thinks the girl is "terrific," Jesse presses him: "If she broke up with me, would you say that?"
"I'd take your side."
"What do you mean?"
"That means I'd say whatever I had to say to make you feel better." (pages 169-170)
David Gilmour is not a parent; he's an enabling sycophant with a dubious fascination with his son's sex life. Early in the book he feigns squeamishness, but then divulges how eagerly he awaits details. For that matter, his salivating descriptions of Rebecca Ng made me uncomfortable. He comes across like Matthew McConaughey's character in Dazed and Confused, gawking at teenage girls.
Ultimately, I think the most damning thing about The Film Club is the fact that Jesse eventually gets what I assume is the Canadian equivalent of the G.E.D. - a decision he made on his own. He crammed into 3 months what he bailed on in two years. There is no demonstrable advantage to him not being compelled to endure those two years in the first place. Watching three movies a week could easily have been done even with school work - especially throughout the summertime.
When I stand back and ask, "What do any of these people have to show for this?" I cannot answer the question. Jesse essentially learned that there is absolutely no reason he can't be self-indulgent the rest of his life, and David seems to have convinced himself that by refraining from offering any actual guidance whatsoever that he was some kind of enlightened father because, in the end, Jesse has a job and something equivalent to a G.E.D. - both of which he got without his father's help at all!
Casual racism shows up at various parts of the book, as do some distasteful homophobic remarks (including an entirely uncalled-for reference to "faggy lattes"), both reminders of the privilege of the Gilmours. Early in the tale, David himself is out of work. He's still footing all the bills for his son's activities without requiring him to earn a single dollar (or even get out of bed before 5:00). He then meets with someone about making a documentary about Viagra, which he takes as justification for taking his son and his son's mother (his ex-wife) on a week long trip to Cuba. When he returns to discover the deal has fallen through because the other guy has been given a better opportunity, Gilmour cries foul at having been misled.
At every turn, I kept waiting for the great epiphanies within father and son that would justify a memoir of such self-indulgence. It never came. Make the Gilmours a different race and they would be too ashamed to even share this story, and crucified if they did. Instead, it sees the light of day and at worst we shrug it off because Gilmour could afford the experiment.
It's things like this that remind me I'm a moderate liberal.
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