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2 reviews, 2 user ratings

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Way We Get By, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Sneakily bleak, and yet surprisingly hopeful."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL: I was, perhaps, a little hard on "The Way We Get By" when I first got out of it. It's like that, sometimes, when you're at a festival and really want to see one movie, can't get in, and wind up in another; you wind up starting from the assumption that it's not quite so good as the one that got away. It's good to get a little distance; I don't think the intervening weeks have made this a great movie in my eyes, but it's certainly a pretty good one.

The film starts out by telling us that Bangor International Airport is one of the main terminals through which American troops pass on their way to and from overseas postings, especially Afghanistan and Iraq. As the troops pass through, they are greeted by a phalanx of locals who offer a simple handshake and word or two. Many are elderly and have some previous military affiliation. Filmmaker Aron Gaudet focuses on three: William "Bill" Knight, a 32-year veteran of the Army Air Corps and Navy who has let his home go completely to seed; his mother Joan Gaudet, whose husband served in Korea and who has two grandchildren being deployed to the middle east; and Gerald "Jerry" Mudy, an ex-Marine who waits for planes to arrive with his dog.

On the surface, that doesn't seem like very much to base a documentary on, and when it's concentrating on those surface things, it isn't. There are only so many ways for the subjects to say that they appreciate the troops' sacrifices, after all. The expected caveats of not necessarily agreeing with the war or the administration that initiated it come right on schedule; including inevitable references to "Mission Accomplished" and the mythical hippies who spat in the face of returning Vietnam vets. It'd be a pleasant short film, but it's not much of a basis for a feature.

What does make for an interesting feature is the focus on how, for some of these people, this is all they've got going on. Bill is, at first glance, a particularly sad case: Ever since his wife died, he's stopped talking care of things around his farmhouse, and it's a revolting sight: Stray cats eating out of cans of cat food that by now cover the floor, rooms full of random junk; you can practically smell the decay. He's got thousands of dollars in credit card debt, and prostate cancer. Jerry isn't in quite such rough shape, but there is something very sad about both: These men have served their country and their reward appears to be to grow old alone. The greeting of soldiers, it seems, is not just a kind thing to do, but a way to feel as though they are accomplishing something.

Not that this movie would directly state that these people's lives are otherwise empty; even when showing us Bill's life at its most desperate, Aron Gaudet is not one to present his subjects as primarily the objects of pity. He's very careful to respect everyone who shows up on screen, showing us Jerry's good humor, the respect Bill draws, and Joan's great empathy. It's not just the greeters, though - he and his crew make sure we see the soldiers who walk through as frighteningly young and decent people, and individual for all their uniforms and great numbers.

Even with its somewhat ominous title, "The Way We Get By" still manages to at least initially draw attention to the saccharin coating over the bitter pill. Which is fitting, in a way - even as it points out how frightening old age can be, it shows us that those years can still be filled with purpose for the person who chooses to find it.

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originally posted: 04/22/09 14:05:40
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2009 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Independent Film Festival of Boston 2009 For more in the Independent Film Festival Boston 2009 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2009 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Florida Film Festival For more in the 2009 Florida Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 SILVERDOCS Documentary Festival For more in the 2009 SILVERDOCS Documentary Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/19/09 Greg thanks to David Corneliusdiscriptive commentary by, we post showtime info on DeafAccessFil 4 stars
3/18/09 james obrien fantastic loved it 5 stars
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  DVD: 02-Nov-2010



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