Pop & Me
1999, NR, 90 min. Directed by Chris Roe.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., June 16, 2000
The idea's catchy enough: Father and son travel the world together for six months, interviewing other fathers and sons in an attempt to demystify the tricky blood bond. And considering the timing of its release (Father's Day weekend), Pop & Me is pitched, somewhat irritatingly, like a guaranteed tearjerker. Sure enough, the waterworks start just minutes into the film as a Los Angeles-based father describes his relationship with his adopted son. With director Chris Roe's shaky cam shoved in the interviewee's face in an extreme close-up, Roe clearly broadcasts that not only do boys cry, they cry a hell of a lot. And we should be too. But I found myself oddly detached from the interviews, which span the globe from Jerusalem to Auckland to the Bronx (shot beautifully by Erik Arnesen) -- maybe because I've never been a father or a son, but most likely because Roe rarely provides any context for their situations. Instead, we are treated again and again to the same, rote speech: “I love my father, even though he beat me, was an alcoholic, was never there, left my mom for another woman, etc.” Insert muffled sob here. Fortunately, the interview portion of the film is rendered almost obsolete halfway through. The real substance emerges in the relationship between Roe and his father, Richard Roe. The elder Roe is right smack in the middle of a midlife crisis, while the younger Roe is still, in his mid-20s, struggling for his father's respect (and bristling when Dad suggests Chris might not be using the mike right.) One hundred some days into their journey together, the two constantly threaten to call the whole thing off. Pop, fully soaking up the cameras, preens like a rock star and grumbles about the exchange rate in Bangladesh. Son whines about never getting to make any of the decisions. In fact, the majority of this appealing voyeuristic piece consists of father and son exchanging pissed looks, then later griping about it to the camera. What emerges is a fascinating (if unintentional) examination of what happens to the parent-child dynamic when the child stops being a child, and the parent starts acting like a preteen. After a particularly ugly fight, Richard and Chris get wasted together at an all-you-can-eat buffet in China, then watch kung fu movies in the hotel room. In a punch-drunk, slap-happy seizure of silliness, the two leap around the room showing off their own kung fu stylings, until the Beijing cops show up at the door. In a telling bit, drunk dad descends into a fit of giggles while drunk son frantically tries to shush his father. Not surprisingly, Pop & Me won the audience award at both the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival and the Aspen FilmFest. Everybody likes to watch the messy guts-stuff of other peoples' lives, if only because we know then we're not alone in our weird ways.