Film Review: “The Way We Get By”

the way we get by posterOn Friday, I attended a screening for the documentary, “The Way We Get By.” As I mentioned before, the film focuses on three ‘troop greeters’ in Bangor, Maine.

As the eastern most American airport, Bangor International has become the de facto gateway to and from American for hundreds of thousands of US troops. This fact lead to a group of volunteers – veterans and otherwise – to band together to provide certain services to the returning (and departing) troops, like free cell phones to call their loved ones. Perhaps more valuable, however, is the mere presence of these volunteers in what would otherwise be an empty airport terminal.  The greeters clap, hug, and shake the hands of these servicemen and servicewomen as if they were their own grandchildren; the average age of the greeters and the average age of the troops evoke this relationship.

The film focuses on three greeters: Joan, Bill, and Jerry.  All are elderly and all live alone. Joan has two grandchildren soon headed to war and Bill is a veteran himself.

As we get to know our greeters, we are provided with vivid depictions of these individuals’ problems outside the airport. There are the myriad of health problems one would expect for someone in their 80s or 90s, financial problems, emotional challenges, and, perhaps the one condition that they all share: loneliness.

While you cannot deny the selflessness of Joan, Bill, and Jerry’s actions by objective standards – they greet these planes in rain, snow, and shine, day or night – the realities and challenges they face in their lives make their actions that much more admirable. It becomes clear, however, that while most volunteer work has a positive effect on the volunteer, the airport is a true lifeline for Joan, Bill, and Jerry.

Watching these individuals reflect on their lives, old age, war, morality, and death with such raw honesty is compelling and endearing and will prompt much more self-reflection than the average film. It is a beautiful story that needed to be told and is told well.

The film premiers as the IFC Center this Friday, July 17. I have word from the filmmakers that Joan, Bill, and Jerry will be in NYC for the opening weekend (17-19) and will attend Q & A’s as they are able to. Get tickets here.

Highly recommended.

More: Trailer | Website | NYT Review | NY Mag Review (Critic’s Pick) | Rotten Tomatoes (88%)

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