Montreal filmmaker Sharon Hyman's autobiographical documentary Neverbloomers: The Search for Grownuphood is an oddly compelling piece of work about a youngish woman who finds herself consumed by a series of troubling questions: "I'm 40, why haven't I grown up yet?" "What is grown-up?" "What's a real job?" "What constitutes success?" "Do you have to be married to be happy?" "Where do grown-ups live?" "How many children should you have in order to be grown-up?"
Then Hyman picks up her camera and begins a video odyssey to find the answers. These are the director's philosophical dilemmas, the matters that nag her, as she finds herself walking up and over the top of the mountain, down the other side, into the land of middle age.
As far as relationships go, Aunt Rhoda is hysterically funny, advising her niece not to judge herself by having a ring on her finger and end up like a lot of other women. Fifty years old and still wiping "their husbands' asses."
Next question, did she make a good career choice? When the director tries to engage in a bit of creative self-deception, suggesting that while she might not be rich and famous, the film critics love her, her mother rolls her eyes, smiles gently, and is quick to quash that kind of personal mythologizing, reminding Hyman that no, she hasn't made it, she's still totally unknown and has no money. You know how parents can do that? Give you that sweet smile, full of love and adoration and then stick in the knife? Nobody can do that better than a well-meaning parent.
Hyman's hard-nosed mentor hectors her that the artist's road is a hard one and nothing can guarantee success, and besides, who wants to grow up anyway? Then she visits an older lesbian with a pet pigeon who insists that self-acceptance is the key to adulthood. The director's best friend wonders if getting older means you don't have to be bitchy to people anymore and that might make you happy. And then an older man insists that following money only leads to unhappiness, and that a truly happy grown-up is content with having their daily bread. And there are many other interviewees from vastly disparate backgrounds who rhapsodize on how to become a successful adult.
Like any good travel guide, Hyman takes you to places you'd never find on your own, but the most interesting aspect of this documentary is how incredibly self-referential it is.
Neverbloomers is the perfect documentary for the YouTube, American Idol, "I am a star," "I am a celebrity," "I am worthy of endless self-examination" zeitgeist we currently live in. Hyman takes this notion of self-importance and turns it on its head; however she's crafty enough to shoot it in such a way that at first blush the documentary appears to be a straight-ahead questioning about growing up, and indeed you could watch it like that and be thoroughly entertained.
But where Neverbloomers truly shines is in its delightfully subtle attack on our current cultural narcissism, and for that reason alone, you really should catch this film on the CBC's documentary channel Monday night, February 27 at 8 p.m. EST.
Cathi Bond is a novelist and national broadcaster currently working on selling her novel Night Town that is likely self-referential in its own regard.
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