Film’s most consistent social experiment continues apace with “42 Up,” helmer Michael Apted’s sixth feature-length look at 11 diverse Brits, down from the 14 first profiled as tykes in 1964 (three have opted out). Broadcast in the summer of 1998 in the U.K. — where it is a cultural phenomenon that has spawned an accompanying book and inevitable imitators — pic will roll out Stateside with a Nov. 17 Film Forum date, undoubtedly to cash in on the wave of publicity surrounding Apted’s work on the new Bond entry, “The World Is Not Enough.” As beneficial as helmer’s influence may be to that aging franchise, his work here reps a fascinating use of the docu form. Reviews will be reverent and biz consistent with previous two entries, which did well in limited theatrical and are still available in U.S. on vid.
Less flashy and more workmanlike in tone than Apted’s recent scientist-profile docu, “Me & Isaac Newton,” “42 Up” continues the theme of the 40-minute original (on which Apted worked as a researcher): the Jesuit doctrine “Give me the child until he is 7, and I will show you the man.”
Thus, at seven-year intervals, Apted and the same crew have checked in with the subjects to gauge their 1964 expectations vs. their unfolding fortunes.
“Boy, we’ve come a long way,” Apted says offscreen at one point, and pic eloquently reflects that weary, dogged journey. What began as an idealistic experiment involving the effects of class on fate (“a glimpse of England in the year 2000,” intones the stentorian 1964 narrator) has become more of a social endurance test, with auds rooting for their favorite to find happiness and fulfillment as the years and pounds pile on.
Seen in this light, docu is bittersweet. There’s the shocking reversal of fortune for the profoundly troubled Neil: In the series’ most unforeseen and serendipitous turn, Neil, who dealt with the stress piled on him by well-meaning parents by becoming almost defiantly homeless in Thatcher-era England, emerges as a successful, Disraeli-quoting, liberal democrat in East London borough politics.
Symon, the black orphan who opted out of “35 Up,” now proudly shares his second family with the world. And bereavement counselor Suzy, who successfully navigated a troubled adolescence to become a composed and graceful mother, takes an almost fierce solace in her children. Her assured passage into a middle age both serene and secure is tempered by Jackie’s alarming money troubles and the tangled love lives of nearly all.
Librarian Lynn thinks society’s “lost an awful lot of morality” since the first installment.
Life hasn’t been easy for anyone in this group, yet pic hints strongly that admirable staying power of subjects — all of whom seem at least fleetingly content — is due at least as much to a very human fear of failure in the spotlight as whatever grit and pluck was instilled in them by their British upbringing.
Pic is candid about the effect of the limelight on its subjects (“I should have done something dramatic,” frets one participant). The burden of fame has also led to friendships: Neil is seen attending teacher Bruce’s recent wedding.
Tech credits are fine, eschewing any hint offlash in favor of the undeniable emotional punch of watching these children grow from fresh-faced moppets to hardened adults.