A documentary can work in a number of ways. It can have a central character or subject so riveting that you end up transported to another world for the duration. It can reveal details about something that intrigue you and make you want to find out more. It can tell you something that makes you think twice about your own perspective on things. Or it can try to be as exhaustive as possible (which is rare, and extremely difficult). And some of them can just be fun, pure and simple. Sadly, The Closer We Get does none of these things.
I’m sure that it was a very cathartic experience for writer-director Karen Guthrie, who points the camera at her mother and father to explore a story that has troubled her for many years, but it’s nothing more than that. And, with the greatest of respect to Karen, it suffers from the fact that her father (Ian Guthrie) is a very unlikable, selfish ass who doesn’t seem to deserve one moment of the attention or affection given to him by any of his family. In fact, he appears to be oblivious to it most of the time. This is a documentary that forces you to spend time with a man so completely self-involved that, at one point, he talks about the hopes and dreams for his children completely in terms of how he wished to be able to introduce himself as the father of someone well-known and celebrated by others.
It’s hard to know who to feel most sorry for. There’s Karen’s mother, Ann, a woman who we can see as a strong, bright personality, despite the devastating effects a stroke has had on her physical (and mental, in some ways) health. And then there are the children, Karen included, who spent so much time living in such a bizarre domestic situation that it was too late to question everything by the time they were old enough to do so. I won’t go into all of the details, but Ann and Ian divorced many years ago, yet never really left each others lives. Everything is made so much worse by the fact that Ian shows no contrition whatsoever, and instead ends up carrying on with the same kind of behaviour that caused so much upset years ago.
Well done to Karen Guthrie for always having a camera pointed in the right direction during some very strange times, and there are certainly one or two affecting scenes in here, but this just didn’t work for me, and I can imagine many others feeling the same way.
The Closer We Get is screening at EIFF 2015 on 18th and 20th June.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: KAREN GUTHRIE
STARS: KAREN GUTHRIE, ANN GUTHRIE, IAN GUTHRIE
RUNTIME: 87 MINS APPROX