Thursday, February 21, 2013

"This Boy's Life" with Robert DeNiro and Ellen Barkin (1993)

Leonardo DiCaprio plays real life author Tobias Wolff as a young teen in the 1950’s  whose mother, Caroline, played by Ellen Barkin, decides to leave her dead end boyfriend in the East and re-locate to Seattle with her son. There she meets Robert DeNiro, who plays garage mechanic Dwight Hansen. 

On the surface he is the kind of man a woman in the 1950’s was looking for; hard working, a bit charismatic, and full of charm. Before long, Dwight and Caroline wed, which leaves young Tobias in an awkward spot. He is at once thrilled to have a “real” father again; yet he is also put off a bit at having to share his mother with this new man. It doesn’t take too long for the cracks to show in this “picture” of growing up in the 1950’s.

As Tobias quickly learns, his step-father is an abusive man, both verbally and physically. He feels that young Tobias is not manly enough and ridicules anything in which the boy takes an interest.  Dwight also struggles with a drinking problem, making him even more unreasonable than he already is.
As the boy struggles through school and his ever increasing problems with his step-dad, his mother begins to see things as they really are. Toby, as Tobias Wolff is called in the film, is anxious about breaking free from the small town in which he lives, and the image of manhood which it portrays.

When his friend Arthur, an unabashedly homosexual boy, makes a pass at him, Toby quietly rejects the advance, yet doesn’t hold it against him. He recognizes in the other young man the same desire for something different to break the monotony, and destiny, they both face by staying in the town. Toby dreams of being accepted by a college back east and becoming a writer; an idea his father constantly ridicules him for.

Caroline eventually recognizes the failure of her husband on just about every level, and in one of the most dramatic scenes of the film, gathers her son and leaves Dwight standing alone wailing aloud, “What about me?”

In this film taken from Tobias Wolff’s memoirs; with a screenplay by Robert Getchell; director Michael Caton-Jones presents the story of the father and son relationship in an effective and convincing way. And Robert DeNiro, as always, is at his usual best with a young Leonardo DiCaprio in this moving portrait of growing up.

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