Faced with a frustrated 16-year-old son having increasing problems at school, Governor General’s Award-winning novelist and broadcaster David Gilmour made a decision that no parenting manual is likely to recommend: he allowed his son, Jesse, to drop out of high school and to live at home rent-free, provided he watched three films each week with his father.
The Film Club traces this strange partnership from its uncertain beginnings to its gradual end. The book cannily balances commentary on the films Gilmour and Jesse watch with an account of Jesse’s adolescent difficulties. Given that Gilmour was experiencing his own struggles, both professional and personal, the book manages to follow two very different yet equally significant coming-of-age stories.
Written with a minimum of flourish and little in the way of sentimentality, The Film Club explores the uneasy intimacies that develop between father and son, the lessons passed on from elder to younger, and the surprising discoveries Gilmour is able to make about himself through his son’s experiences (particularly Jesse’s ongoing heartbreak over his first true love). There are no tragedies or revelations here, just the tribulations of two men finding their way in the world. It’s a surprisingly moving, thoughtful work.
If there is a criticism to be made, it’s that one is left wanting more. One wants to read more about the films Gilmour and son watched, the insights they gained from the movies (which range from On the Waterfront to Fast Times at Ridgemont High). One wants to know more about their relationship, about their ongoing struggles. And one wants to hear more about Gilmour’s writing career, which is almost entirely absent from the book. Reading The Film Club might leave a reader with the assumption that a novelist’s life is made up of hanging out with his family, watching DVDs, and struggling to piece together a living.