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Parents and (Grown) Children

March 1, 2010

by John Farr

John Farr’s picks for films about the relationships between elder parents and their adult children.

Tokyo Story (1953)


Frail, elderly couple Tomi and Shukishi (Chieko Higashiyama and Chishu Ryu) set off from their rural village to visit their children in the hustle-bustle world of modern-day Tokyo. But when they arrive, doctor son Koichi (So Yamamura) and beauty-salon proprietor Shige (Haruko Sugimura) are too busy to visit and send the disappointed old folks to a health resort. Only their daughter-in-law Noriko (Setsuko Hara) takes time to show them the highlights of the city. Yet later, an unexpected illness leads the elder children to regret their selfish inattention.


One of the enduring classics by celebrated master Ozu, this melancholic dissection of family dynamics in postwar Japan may sound simplistic, but “Story” packs an emotional punch as it observes the erosion of traditional values in modern lifeways. Among a uniformly strong cast, Higashiyama and Ryu give low-key, heartbreaking performances as the jilted parents-who seem bewildered as much by the clamor of the city as by their children’s inhospitable behavior. “Story” may be understated, but Ozu’s quiet, immobile visual style and deft direction reflect the nuances of everyday existence like no one else.

The Graduate (1967)


A model son and newly minted college graduate, Ben Braddock (Dennis Hoffman) is proudly paraded around his parents’ friends, who congratulate him heartily. But inside, Ben feels numb. He soon gets involved with his mother’s sexually frustrated best friend, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), then creates a combustible chain reaction by falling for her daughter, Elaine (Katherine Ross).


One of the signature films of the 1960s, this feature introduced the world to Hoffman and gave Bancroft a racy role she played with marvelous feline cunning. This sublime black comedy transcends its period, speaking to new generations of alienated youth beginning to navigate a discordant, dysfunctional adult world. The supporting cast, including deft character players William Daniels and Murray Hamilton, are note-perfect, and that Simon & Garfunkel score still stirs the soul. A must for repeat viewings.

Lovers and Other Strangers (1970)


The occasion of Mike and Susan’s wedding (Michael Brandon and Bonnie Bedelia) is pretext for examination of love via their relationship and those surrounding them, particularly his brother’s failing marriage and the dysfunctional but enduring unions of their respective parents (his: Castellano and Arthur, hers: Young and Leachman). The result is a farcical glimpse into the infinite variations on the necessary but complex mess we call love.


Cy Howard’s knowing, often side-splitting ensemble piece benefits from stand-out turns by Gig Young (as the bride’s philandering father), Anne Jackson (as the object of his adulterous affections), and Richard Castellano as the groom’s awkward but well-meaning Dad. Bob Dishy almost steals the movie as a would-be Casanova. Wonderful early “70s flavor, and look for a young Diane Keaton as the groom’s unhappy sister-in-law.

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  • View Comments
  • Nikki

    I’d add to the list “The Lion In Winter”; “Fiddler On The Roof”; “On Golden Pond”; “Missing” with Jack Lemmon’s heart wrenching performance as he comes to terms with his son’s life, and finally, his death; “My Left Foot”; the current film “Precious.” And, finally I’d add two parent/teenagers films – the wonderful “The Rose Tattoo,” with Anna Magnani, and “Rebel Without A Cause” with James Dean roaring the best parent/child line ever written “You’re tearing me apart!!”

  • Nikki

    I know I went off-message with some of the films on my list, since the parents in them weren’t all elder. “On Golden Pond” is the only one with elder parents, but I LOVE the other films and you’re list made me think of them. What can I say?

  • rayban

    Along these lines, I love Yasujiro Ozu’s earlier film, “Late Spring” in which a widowed father, who lives happily with his contented daughter, is pushed into marrying her off for her own good. And I also think a great deal of Otto Preminger’s hard-surfaced and entirely unsentimental study of a father and daughter in extremis, “Bonjour Tristesse” with a masterful performance from a very young Jean Seberg.

  • Diana

    How about the always-wonderful Ruth Gordon as the manipulative senior mom who’ll stop at nothing to keep her adult son (George Seagal) from leaving the nest to marry a beautiful nurse (Trish VanDevere) in “Where’s Poppa?”

  • Nikki

    Thanks Diana for listing “Where’s Poppa.” Great film and hardly ever seen on TV.

  • Pao at total image hair designs

    Yes these movies have great cinematography and story line. One of ym favorites too is Annie Hall (1977). It just tickles me. The story of the director and Annie. Annie here also has great hair do and she can easily flaunt it..How I wish we can turn back time.