"It really is to Guthrie’s credit that she manages to expunge these themes from a film that is very much her own family’s story"
You’ll be hard pressed to find a more personal documentary in 2015 than Karen Guthrie’s The Closer We Get.
Guthrie, who along with co-producer Nina Pope founded the ‘Somewhere’ artist collective, takes a long and in depth look at her own family and upbringing in a film that also manages to bring out universal themes via an intricate look at an odd family history.
Growing up in Largs near Glasgow, Guthrie was one of four children in a seemingly standard nuclear family. Yet dad Ian was, unbeknownst to his nearest and dearest, actually living a double life. What ensued was Karen and her siblings growing up in one of the strangest family set ups you’re likely to encounter. And it doesn’t end there.
As we meet the family, we learn that mum Ann and dad Ian have since divorced but he has moved back in with her to take care of her following a severe stroke. It is here that Guthrie makes the film’s entry point and thus ensues a retrospective view of her life growing up.
As children and teenagers, we don’t really think too much about our environment, we just accept and get on with it and it’s not until we reach our thirties or so that we start to think back, examine and understand. This is exactly what Guthrie does here with her own life while at the same time starting to understand just how similar she is to her own parents. She also speaks of mothering her own mother, now largely reliant on the children she raised to take care of her. This might be one person’s family but it contains many aspects many grown-ups encounter as middle age approaches.
It really is to Guthrie’s credit that she manages to expunge these themes from a film that is very much her own family’s story. She uses deeply thoughtful voiceover and in one particularly moving scene breaks down in tears as her disabled mother speaks of the search for happiness. It feels real because it is; there are no fabricated histrionics or stunts here, and steers well clear of self-indulgence.
Occasionally, it does feel somewhat slow-burning and there is little by the way of dramatic development (one big revelation is remarkably underplayed to the point where you’re not even sure it happened). Some will undeniably find elements of it dull. Yet this is a documentary that feels rather than tells a personal insight of largely unusual family situations with themes that many of us can all relate to, in some way or another.