Friday June 9, 2000
"Pop & Me," an edgy probing of the father-and-son relationship, won the audience award at the recent Los Angeles International Film Festival for good reason: It's a documentary made with rigor, humor and no small amount of honest emotion.
A bearded, good-looking man of 55 and the father of three handsome sons, Richard Roe found himself in a triple-threat midlife crisis: His longtime marriage broke up and both his parents died just as his successful career (as a bond trader) began to falter. He wound up coming to stay in Santa Monica with his middle son Chris, a graphic designer.
A gregarious man with a forceful personality, Richard discovered that what he wanted to do most was to take another trip around the world, for his previous 1979 trip, with his wife and three boys, represented the happiest time of his life. He would dip into his savings not only to make this six-month journey but also offer to take along Chris (plus cameraman Erik Arnesen) and underwrite a film of their travels.
The result is no mere travelogue, for the film is first of all a collection of interviews with fathers and sons around the world about their relationships with each other. Beyond that it delves into Richard and Chris' own relationship, which proves to be problematic and is put to the test time again during their long and at times grueling odyssey.
That Chris intends to delve beneath the superficial becomes clear right away. Following a brief visit to the pleasant suburban Philadelphia home where the Roe family once was happy, Chris and Richard proceed to a Bronx tenement where Richard lived in poverty with his mother. Richard's father was an alcoholic who would be institutionalized with dementia for decades. Richard speaks movingly of seeing his father for the first time in 33 years and giving him his forgiveness for so many years of neglect.
The vast majority of the fathers and sons the Roes interview speak with teary-eyed mutual devotion, but there are several standout variations on the theme. A recovering alcoholic in South Africa tells of the hell he put his family through before he sobered up; the love between an Egyptian general and his policeman son is palpable, but their relationship is based on the father's absolute dominance and the son's total obedience.
But the Roes' real coup was in coming upon Julian Lennon on a beach in Monte Carlo and having Lennon speak forthrightly of his feeling of abandonment once his parents divorced (in his infancy) and his father, John Lennon, had married Yoko Ono. "As a father, I don't have much respect for him at all. He gave the world more love than he did to me," Lennon says.
As the film progresses, relations between the extroverted Richard, not shy about telling his son how to make his movie, and Chris become strained. A brief visit with his oldest son reveals in a flash that Richard shows him more respect than he does Chris and an equally short encounter with his youngest son shows a closeness to him that he and Chris do not share.
"Pop & Me" leaves you feeling that Richard and Chris' relationship is a work in progress, but one that seems heading in the right direction. It would be harder to imagine a film that audiences could identify with more readily.
Pop & Me, 2000. Unrated. A Seventh Art Releasing presentation of a Fish Eggs production. Director Chris Roe. Producers Richard & Chris Roe. Executive producers Richard Roe & Chris Moore. Cinematographers Erik Arnesen & Chris Roe. Editors Jesse Negron & Chris Roe. Music Steve Edwards & Mazatl Galindo. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times