By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 11, 2015)
So what do you get when you cross Being There with The Gods Must Be Crazy? Something along the lines of this unique (if not particularly groundbreaking) documentary from director Crystal Moselle. The film is a portrait of the 9-member Angulo family, who live in a cramped apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Susanne Angulo is an American woman who met her Peruvian husband Oscar while travelling through South America. They married and settled in New York City, where they proceeded to raise six sons and one daughter. So far, a typical family story…right?
Here’s where it gets a little…odd. Apparently, Oscar never quite got over the culture shock of moving from the jungles of Peru to the concrete canyons of Manhattan (or something to that effect; the director doesn’t really clarify, which is one of the film’s flaws). At any rate, at some point he arbitrarily decided that all their children would be home-schooled by his wife, and essentially confined to the apartment. And as time went on, Oscar began spending more and more time locked up in his bedroom, making no effort to socialize (or seek employment)…and day drinking (that’s rarely a good sign).
So you don’t start to worry, let me assure you that this doesn’t end in a murder-suicide (even though the enabling pathology seems to be in place). In fact, here’s the real shocker: The kids are normal. OK, maybe not “normal” normal, but not they are not as fucked up as you would expect. They’re all sharp, friendly, engaging. That’s what’s weird. The secret to their success is watching movies. Lots of movies. Oscar amassed a sizable collection, and gave his kids unlimited access. It’s this tear in the matrix, Oscar’s one concession of (relative) “freedom” that most likely kept the family from imploding (I feel validated, as I have been preaching the gospel of “movie therapy” for years on end).
Do the kids ever break out of their prison? I won’t spoil it, though you’ve likely already figured out where it’s headed. Therein lies the problem with the film; fascinating subject, a documentarian’s dream setup…and the director squanders the opportunity, leaving us with something that (stylistically, at least) adds up to little more than a glorified episode of The Osbournes or 19 Kids and Counting. That aside, still worth a peek for the curious.