E1 Entertainment // 2008 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // December 7th, 2010
No matter how far you go, you can't run from family
Under serious scrutiny, most of our so-called life stages are a bit arbitrary. I mean nothing happens when the clock strikes midnight on a person's eighteenth birthday. No magical transformation occurs that suddenly gives him or her the wisdom to know who to vote for, whether to smoke or not, or if joining the military is a good idea or not. Yet once that clock strikes, for better or worse we become adults. Because it's such an arbitrary designation, it's not surprising that a lot of novels and films try to come to grips with the transition from adolescence to adulthood, especially when we consider that institutions like college tend to prolong adolescence. The Year of Getting to Know Us (Blu-ray) is another in that long line of films that tries to show the process of dealing with the responsibilities of adulthood while the difficulties of childhood are too easily remembered. Although it's got a solid cast, anchored by the likeable Jimmy Fallon, it doesn't have anything really new to say about dealing with family or adulthood.
Christopher Rocket (Jimmy Fallon, Whip It) grew up in Florida with a distant, golf-obsessed father (Tom Arnold, True Lies) and a health-obsessed mother (Sharon Stone, Broken Flowers). Now he's a freelance writer in New York City with a girlfriend (Lucy Liu, Lucky Number Slevin), who wants him to commit despite the fact that she's going to be leaving for Geneva. If that weren't enough, he gets a call that his father has had a stroke, and the trip down to Florida to see his ailing father will teach Christopher something about family.
I don't want to be too hard on The Year of Getting to Know Us, since its heart's in the right place. So, I'll start with the things that it gets right. First, as a native Floridian, they obviously shot at least some of the film in Florida. It's a small thing, but credit where credit is due, the film gets the location right. Florida is the perfect place to set a story about a golf-obsessed older man, and it provides a strong contrast with Christopher's NYC life. The second thing the film gets right is its cast. Jimmy Fallon holds it together as Christopher, and none of the goofiness he usually displays is present here. He plays the estranged son with a lot of convincing heart and just the right tone. Tom Arnold is great as the distant father figure, while Sharon Stone looks wonderfully unrecognizable as the lactose-free mother. Lucy Liu has the difficult job of playing the girlfriend as both sympathetic but also pressuring for commitment, and she does a fantastic job. Finally, the film has a dual structure, contrasting Christopher's current predicament with episodes from his childhood. It's a clever way to get at the heart of the family situation without relying on exposition, and many of the film's more humorous moments come out of little Christopher's life.
The Year of Getting to Know Us doesn't quite know what to do with those positive attributes. It's like the film combined a good location, a great cast, and a strong structure but found out it didn't really have anything to say. Or, to be fair, anything new to say. What The Year of Getting to Know Us shows is that family and commitment are difficult things to juggle, our parents can really screw us up as kids, and ultimately we have to get over it. All of these things may well be true, but other films have said the same thing just as well (like, for instance, Garden State). That gives this film a kind of been-there, done-that feeling that detracts from the otherwise strong cast and clever structure.
The so-so Blu-ray disc doesn't help matters. The AVC encoded transfer looks fine, but overall the film is a bit dark, which suits the mood of the film but doesn't make it pop on home video. The DTS-HD audio track is a bit of a waste for a dialogue-heavy film with little use of the surrounds. The extras include the film's trailer, and a press conference with the cast and director Patrick Sisam. It runs for 50 minutes and gives a strong sense of the camaraderie on the set. However, a more traditional making-of or commentary would have been a nice addition, since the press conference vibe was a little jokey for a film with such weight.
The Year of Getting to Know Us is a fine offbeat drama. It's not going to change anyone's life, but it has a solid cast telling a story about the difficulties of living with people. The Blu-ray presentation is solid, if unspectacular, and worth a rental for fans of the cast.
The Year of Getting to Know Us might take some getting used to, but it's not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R