Not many dads would agree to let a teenager drop out of high school without any real plan in place. And not many kids could manage that much freedom without some ominous outcome. But David Gilmour wasn’t just any dad; he was a Canadian novelist, film critic and TV producer who happened to be nearly unemployed at the time; his bright 15-year old son Jesse was floundering and miserable at his Toronto high school. It’s a fascinating experiment — especially for parents of teens going through similar struggles — and mostly engaging, albeit a tad self-involved.
As a parent facing an almost identical crisis, this reader was fascinated by the divorced parents’ nonpanicked approach to their son’s situation. Gilmour, who must be in the running for the world’s most chill dad award, agrees to let his son laze about the house with his buddies, as long as he watches three movies a week with his dad. His actress mom apprehensively goes along with the plan, although her infrequent appearances in the book raise questions — perhaps she didn’t care to have her ex hold up her parenting skills or love life to public view. Likewise, Gilmour’s current wife and other children are left far in the background.
The father-son film club fittingly starts with a vintage tale of youthful rebellion, “The 400 Blows.” But it’s not all black and white and auteur theory: they make room for “Ishtar,” “Pulp Fiction” and “Last Tango in Paris” by way of “Citizen Kane” and “Ran,” with films in festival-style groupings like Buried Treasures and Guilty Pleasures.
There are no exams or even formal discussions — just father and son chatting about the films over dinner and wine at their favorite French bistro. The son’s tendency toward self-involved reveries about women and art were clearly inherited from his similarly afflicted dad. “I’m like that guy in ‘Last Tango in Paris,’ ” Jesse whines during one draining break-up with a girl. Still, it’s a slim and quick read that includes a memorable list of all the films they watched over the three-year period.
The cinematic plan’s not for everyone — like other varieties of homeschooling and “unschooling,” it requires one parent to be at home most of the time.
In the end, Gilmour gets more involved in his work, and Jesse eventually gets up off the couch and starts to find his way. It’s hard to say whether Jesse’s film-based education is any worse than the endless testing and rote memorization offered by most high schools. He certainly lucked out in the father department, though.