This is a great movie to watch with your dad, or grand-dad, on Father’s Day. It’s the story of several generations of American Jews that spans the first half of the 20th Century. But this is no dull history lesson!
You can see the affect of historical events on people from kids to whole families. We think we live in a cool time now, with our X-Boxes and iPhones, but this movie shows how even earlier technologies altered society. It shows how “new” inventions like movies and TV changed the way people related to the world and each other.
It shows how major world events, like the Great Depression and World Wars I and II, affected individual American families… but so did great American inventions like baseball and rock’n’roll! No offense, History, but we’ll take those other ones!
One of the main characters is an uncle, played by the great Yiddish actor Lou Jacobi, who we talk about here. Every year, the uncle comes late for Thanksgiving dinner, making the whole family wait while the turkey gets cold. Well, one year, the family doesn’t wait, and from the fireworks that happen when he shows up, you’d think Thanksgiving had turned into the Fourth of July!
Kevin Pollak plays a second-generation character. He’s one of the family members who changes his name to make it sound more “American.” As you might guess, one of the major themes of this movie is assimilation (say: ah-sim-ih-LAY-shun), the idea that immigrants— and not just Jews— should stop being so much like they were in Old Country and try to fit in in the New World. Oh, BTW, look for a pre-Lord of the Rings Elijah Wood!
After the movie, talk about your family story with Dad and Grandpa. How much of it was like the family in the movie? Did your family change its name? Does anyone still remember what it was like in the Old Country?
And what things did you keep… Does anyone still speak the way they did before they immigrated? What about foods, clothes, holidays, names for different relatives? How are the jobs and toys, music and movies different then and now?
The movie’s name, “Avalon,” is not an American word. It comes from the legends of King Arthur, and is a place that is supposed to be somewhat magical. In what ways do you think someone coming to America might find it amazing?
Avalon is part of a series of movies about Jewish life in Baltimore directed by Barry Levinson. When you are a little older, you might want to see the others in this order: Liberty Heights, Diner, and Tin Men (with Richard Dreyfuss and Barbara Hershey). Why in that order? That’s not the order in which they were made. No, but the first is about teenagers, the second is about twenty-somethings, and the third is about middle-aged guys. Avalon is sort of part of the set, but it covers many more years and ages, and is more of a drama while the others are mainly comedies.
But we picked it for you to see first, and on Father’s Day, because it shows things from both the kid and grown-up point of view. Yes, grown-ups have a point of view, too! Now, tuck your shirt in.
(FYI: Look at all the Jewish actors Barry puts in his very Jewish movies: Liberty Heights (Adrien Brody, Ben Foster, Bebe Neuwirth, and David Krumholtz), Diner (Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Paul Reiser, and Ellen Barkin) and Tin Men (Richard Dreyfuss and Barbara Hershey).