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"Capturing the Friedmans"

Directed by Andrew Jarecki.
Release Year:  2003
Review Date:  6/16/03 


Sunny, 75 degrees, no wind, blue skies.  What better way to spend a Fathers’ Day afternoon than to watch a film about a father with a penchant for molesting young boys? 

That’s exactly what I was thinking, too!  (Just kidding...really!)  Our programmer for the Sunday Night Film Club that I am in decided on “Capturing the Friedmans” and I must say, it was a good call.  An eye-opening documentary that details a sodomy case from the late 80s, filmmaker Andrew Jarecki presents “Capturing the Friedmans” as a very ambiguous retelling of what happened surrounding events that took place in the Friedman household.  There’s Arnie, the father that gets caught with a large stack of child pornography in the home; he teaches a computer class out of his house for neighborhood adolescents and might have been involved in some illicit activities with some of the students.  There’s wife Elaine, who talks about a loveless marriage as if she was never a member of it; son Seth didn’t even want to talk about it.  The other two sons are the most intriguing characters of the film--David, the oldest, to this day believes that his father was set up by Nassau County police; Jesse was suspected of beating and sodomizing so many of the father’s students that he looks like the anti-Christ. 

What makes all of the events surrounding the family’s molestation case more stunning is that through recountings by family members and from home videos the family has kept, they seem like the ideal family--happy, loving, in a solid middle-class home with a bright future ahead of them.  Oh, except for that whole “Leapfrog” game that Dad used to play with some of his students...while they were naked.  Or the fact that Dad used to perform sexual acts on his younger brother when the two were children.  It is fascinating to watch the videos that the family made, many of which serve as a glimpse into what it might be like to live in a house where the parents are always fighting, or kids film personal diaries, or where Dad makes jokes about having to go off to jail when he really IS about to go off to jail. 

Jarecki does a great job of pointing fingers at a variety of sources, not just Arnie, who is initially made to look like the worst pedophile in the history of pedophiles.  The conflicting evidence given by the police officers interviewed also helps create the fog that surrounds what really happened during those computer classes in the Friedmans’ home; a sheer lack of physical evidence and interviews from students that may have been coerced leads one to uncomfortably assume that maybe this patriarch might be clean after all. 

But, “Capturing the Friedmans” doesn’t dwell so much on the right and wrong of it; highlighting the essence of the dysfunctional family is so fascinating to watch that I was hooked in for the film’s entire running time.  I can’t even imagine how a film like this must look for someone that lived with parents that seemed to fight like this, or in a house where a member faced such adversity from the outside world.  Solid stuff, but it might not be showing everywhere so do some digging to find out where it is playing.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09