The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

A perfect film for a night at the theatre with your teenager

with 19 comments

placebeyondthepinesSo what do you think? What makes us into who we are? Genes or environment?”

I tossed out the question to my 18 year old daughter as we were making our way home from The Place Beyond the Pines. I wasn’t sure of the answer myself, so I really wanted to know her view on it.

It was one of those precious mother-daughter moments that can’t be planned or forced, but come to you as a grace. I picked it up and wrapped it and stored it in my memory bank, painfully aware of the countdown timer. Before I know it she’ll have moved on in her life and nights and conversations like this will be few and far between.

Men adrift in the world
I really hadn’t expected the night to turn out like this. To be completely honest I had feared the worst. It was the late night screening on a Friday, a time slot marked with exhaustion. Thinking back at the previous movie by this director, Blue Valentine, I wondered if I’d manage to stay awake at all. As much as I had liked it, I also remembered how slow it had been and how I had struggled not to fall asleep on the couch. Would this be the same thing?

But it wasn’t. The movies do have some things in common. They both feature Ryan Gosling playing a working class guy who is bruised by life and circumstances. Not a hero, but at some level still someone you can root for, despite his flaws. Both are about men adrift in the world, a bit at loss in their masculinity, how to be a husband, a son or a father.

What makes The Place Beyond the Pines different to Blue Valentine is that it has more of story, with a beginning, a middle section and an end. It does meander a bit, especially if you do what we did: enter the theatre without knowing anything about the plot (which only makes it better). But it’s never aimless and when all pieces have fallen into place, you end up with a hard hitting, beautifully constructed drama in three acts with roots back to the old Greeks.

Far from falling asleep, I was on my toes, wondering what turn the movie would take next and where life eventually would take those characters. They were hardly people that would end up as my friends in real life, and yet I found myself caring a lot. For all their flaws and shortcomings, I never lost hope that they’d straighten up their lives, somehow overcoming the mighty tide of genes and circumstances they were up against.

The answer
“Both”, my daughter said finally. “I think it’s both. But mostly environment”.

I nodded. That’s what I had been taught at school as well and it made sense. But then I looked at her a second time and decided that in her case it was neither. Our offspring is so much better in every way than any of her parents: wiser, smarter, more energetic, a ton prettier and with a social talent that both of us lacked. Neither genes, nor environment could explain who she had become or predict where she was going. There were other powers at work. Destiny? Luck? Norns spinning  their threads in a secret place beyond the pines? Who knows?

What I did know was that I loved this movie – all of it, including the third act, which some critics apparently have some issues with. And so did my daughter.

If you’re planning to go to a theatre with your teenager, I urge you: don’t automatically pick one of the summer blockbusters. This indie gem might serve you much better as a starting point for an interesting conversation that goes beyond the pines.

The Place Beyond the Pines (Derek Cianfrance, US 2013) My rating:4,5/5

Written by Jessica

May 3, 2013 at 3:32 pm

19 Responses

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  1. I like your nature vs. nurture insight. Great review!


    May 3, 2013 at 8:04 pm

  2. The answer to the question you posed is epigenetics. That is simplistically that the sum can be greater (or different) than the inputs (genetics or the environment separately).

    food science guru

    May 4, 2013 at 3:54 am

    • Epigenetics. Sounds great! It’s like cooking. Take a few ingredients. Each on their own, they’re nothing special. Marry them and all of a sudden you have a delicious dish, so much greater than the parts.


      May 5, 2013 at 9:06 am

  3. Great post. I’m glad that this movie allowed you to share a nice moment with your daughter. Very curious about this movie. Hope it opens around here soon!


    May 4, 2013 at 10:11 am

    • Thanks Fernando! I definitely recommend it. Well crafted, engaging all the way and characters that really feel real.


      May 5, 2013 at 9:07 am

  4. Lovely little personal exchange between between you and your Jessica. It’s this personal touch that always your reviews so interesting. I actually attended a gathering in Scotland with other parents when my daughters were younger and it was called “Nature and Nurture”. The aim was to provide an outdoor environment for kids and teach them about flaura and fauna. It’s important that they get a good base from both ends. Anyway, I thought I’d digress and share that 😉
    Very fine review, once again Jessica and I can’t wait to see this one. I actually loved Blue Valentine and expect to feel the same about this one.

    Mark Walker

    May 4, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    • Thank you Mark! I definitely think you’re going to like this a lot. Looking forward to see your take eventually.


      May 5, 2013 at 9:08 am

  5. It’s an interesting question. I know identical twins who grew up in the same environment but who are nothing at all alike, and I know someone adopted and raised in a totally different culture than that of their biological roots, who met their biological family in adulthood and discovered that they have a half brother who is an exact mirror image. Right down to the same occupation, same hairstyle, and same unhealthy addictions.

    As to the film, I’d give it a 3.5 lambs. Loved the ambition, the sprawling story, the excellent cast, but it didn’t maintain it’s grip on me all the way through.

    Bonjour Tristesse

    May 5, 2013 at 12:03 am

    • Yeah, I’ve read about twin studies that go both ways, so there doesn’t seem to be one clear answer to that.
      When a movie loses its grip on you there isn’t much you can do about it. I was really hooked on it the whole way. And couldn’t predict where it would take me.


      May 5, 2013 at 9:11 am

  6. Sounds as though your daughter has inherited much of her mother’s life wisdom.

    Ryan McNeil

    May 7, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    • You’re flattering me, sir. I’d be honest if I was anywhere near her class. Unbearable Proud Parent ftw!


      May 7, 2013 at 3:59 pm

  7. Loved the film and like you I didn’t have any issues at all with the last act. Not knowing anything about it in advance really did help as there are some unexpected things happening.


    May 13, 2013 at 7:25 am

    • Yes, I was happy to go in there all blind. I’m not sure I would have loved it quite as much as I did with everything outlined to me.


      May 13, 2013 at 11:38 am

      • No, I don’t think it would either. It reminded me strongly of what Hitchcock did in Psycho….


        May 13, 2013 at 2:33 pm

  8. Great film. The third act had me deeply connected throughout, as it connected the story, I was connecting my own dots.


    May 17, 2013 at 9:18 am

    • Yes, I’m a little surprised at how much complaint there is about the third act. Worked fine for me.


      May 17, 2013 at 9:32 am

  9. […] 8. The Place Beyond the Pines A hard hitting, beautifully constructed drama in three acts. I bought each one of them. […]

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