“Three generations of family. They shared a dream called America in a place called Avalon.”
Director: Barry Levinson
Cast: Aidan Quinn, Elizabeth Perkins, Leo Fuchs
Synopsis: A Polish-Jewish family comes to the USA at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. There, the family and their children try to make themselves a better future in the so-called promised land.
Avalon is a meticulously constructed movie that provides a worthy conclusion to Barry Levinson’s Baltimore trilogy, while perhaps overplaying its hand with its relentless hammering home of a message that is neither new or particularly insightful. The movie opens strongly, with a beautifully photographed depiction of the wonder and elation experienced by a newly arrived immigrant to the shores of America. His introduction to his new home is effectively played against a backdrop of 4th of July celebrations that emphasise his sense of wonder at this strange new land (in fact, Independence and Thanksgiving days play an important part in the unfolding of this tale, acting as milestones against which the irreversible erosion of family and community life are measured).
The story then proceeds to chart the progress of the Krichinsky family over the next few decades, paying beautiful attention to detail as it concentrates mostly on the success of Jules (Aidan Quinn), and his relationships with his parents, wife, and children, and, to a lesser extent, his extended family of uncles and aunts. Unusually, the sensitivity and perception often comes from the men in the family. For example, when his uncle leads Jules’ son from his wounded father’s hospital bed, he tells the boy a tale that enables him to identify and understand the sense of helplessness he feels about an adult world that he is too young to understand. Next scene, his mother tells him with a jarring abruptness, that his father is going to be alright. Having said that, the older men are sometimes portrayed as figures of fun that verge on stereotype.
The acquisition of wealth, and with it material goods, coupled with the progress of technology (symbolised by television), correlate exactly with the slow deterioration of the family identity, and conversation between family members diminishes as the size of the tables grows smaller. Large wooden dinner tables are first replaced by small formica-topped tables, around which the family bicker where they once laughed, and then by individual tables at which each family member sits as they silently watch TV. As they grow more affluent, the strands of the family move further apart. Even when they move together to a new neighbourhood, their new houses are so far apart they can’t talk to each other across the street the way they used to.
Eventually, the message takes over the story to such a degree that every incident can be seen as a tool to reinforce it and, in terms of character development, the film grinds to a halt somewhere during its last third. However, this movie is superior fare fashioned at the hands of a master, and deserves the positive reputation it enjoys.
(Reviewed 11th August 2002)