Celebrate America with this glorious love letter to our wonderful country. If Norman Rockwell made a movie, this would be it. If “America the Beautiful” was a movie, this would be it. If America had a home move, this would be it. And if we ever needed a reminder of of what can be proud of, what we aspire to, what we stand for — this is it.
It’s a big, beautiful love letter to America from film-maker Louis Schwartzberg. Over the years, as he traveled the country to film stock footage for his company, he met people and heard stories he wanted to put on screen. At a moment when America is finding it hard to remember a reason to feel proud, this movie is a powerful reminder. It’s one that parents should share with children to inspire them to think about their own stories and their own dreams.
So, yes, it begins with a cowboy and his horse. And there is a black lady singing gospel, with parishioners in fearsomely elegant hats nodding along. And a Native American who saves a wounded eagle. And a blind mountain climber. And a dairy farmer who moonlights in community theater, currently starring in a musical version of Dracula. And a guy who works in a car wash and moonlights in a rock band with his truckdriver brother. And the ex-convict who became captain of America’s Olympic boxing team. And steelworkers worried about losing jobs overseas. And a guy who blows stuff up just for the fun of it. Welcome to America.
The photography is stunning, the camera swooping over glorious vistas of trees and mountains and zooming in on the details of a car covered with bobbleheads or the indoor slide in the home built by Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s.
The movie does not pretend to be comprehensive or dispositive. It’s just a kalideoscope of images and impressions that come back to some basic themes, the ones that really are at the heart and soul of America: family, music, sports, freedom, laughter, passion for expressing ourselves, community, work, passion for our dreams, food, and…vehicles.
Yes, Americans love our modes of transportation, from the cowboy with his horse to the man who says, “I began by painting a rooster on the door of my car and gradually added more objects and now I have an identity.” Then there’s the first woman national aerobatic champion who likes to make her airplane do things no one ever thought it could and the fastest bike messenger in the country.
Each of the stories is touching, funny, thrilling, inspiring, or all of the above at the same time. Yes, it’s corny, but corny isn’t necessarily less smart than cynicism. And sometimes we need a little corn to remind us that even in a troubling and complicated time, we can still feel proud of our shared dream of freedom and freedom to dream.
Parents should know that the movie has a reference to alcoholism and loss and some moments of peril and emotion.
Families who see this movie should talk about which of the people in it they would most like to meet. What do you think about the distinction between a laborer, a craftsman, and an artist? Many of the people in the movie talked about passing on what they had learned. How do you do that in your family?
Families may want to try to find out more about some of the people in the movie like Michael Bennett, the Bandaloop Cliff Dancers, The New Birth Brass Band and, of course Ben and Jerry’s! If you were going to advise Schwartzberg on his next film, what would you tell him to include? Families should take their video cameras and try to get the people they know to tell their stories.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Spellbound. Those interested in more offbeat portrayals of Americans will also enjoy Sherman’s March and Trekkies.