Growing up is a part of life, and the ideals and hopes and dreams that we once had as young people don’t always make it across the finish line with us in old age. Life is hard, and how we handle that rigid difficulty is what truly defines us all as human beings. In the new film, The Idea of Manhood, writer-director Serge Kushnier tackles a chapter in the life of two longtime friends, now in their 40s, and this simple, yet elegant story hits notes that make for some interesting introspective about how we see growing up, happiness, and the sacrifices that we make as the sand slips down in the hourglass of our time on this planet.
The Idea of Manhood is the story of Jacob (Jeremy Kushnier) and Sandy (Karl Bury), college roommates and now old friends. Jacob is married with kids and living in New York City. He drinks too much and stumbles through his life as everything swirls around him, seemingly out of his control. One day, witty, sardonic Sandy shows up unexpectedly, on a journey of self-discovery of his own, and the two friends spend the day together, catching up and reminiscing. But this story of reconnecting has some twists and turns that neither man expects, and in the end, they both realize something about themselves; something they never saw before.
The production of The Idea of Manhood is understated. Most of the film takes place at Jacob’s home, with a few scenes shot during a walk to buy food and beer. In fact, The Idea of Manhood could easily translate into a stage play, as the exposition comes through solely from the dialogue between the two men, with a small supporting cast of younger characters there to serve as a contrast and as catalyst for the discussion that Jacob and Sandy must have.
Jeremy Kushnier, as Jacob, carries the role well, as the yin to Sandy’s yang, and his rapid fire delivery of lines and conveyance of emotions as the conversation begins to take its turn is what drives the story forward. Jacob is a man at a crossroads, and he — at his core — has no idea what he’s supposed to do, so he just goes with it, handling life as it comes. His choices are not always sound, but to the character, he believes he is right, and Kushnier makes us believe that.
Sandy, on the other hand, shapes his own life. He unabashedly does what he wants, relishing in his lifestyle as a writer for a magazine in Washington, DC, and his carousel of relationships and his outlook on life, love, and technology was refreshingly realistic. Karl Bury brings Sandy to life with a level of gravitas seldom seen in an independent film. I connected immediately with Sandy, and his views of the world, of people, of situations, all of it. I found myself hanging on every word that Bury delivered, laughing, smiling, and nodding my head. Sandy is the perfect representation of who I am right now in my own life and it resonated on a deeper level than any other performance I’ve seen in years. When the conversation begins its inevitable somber turn, I went with it, again resonating with the thoughts of this fictional character. By the end of the film, I found myself shaken a bit at Bury’s performance. To say I was moved in an gross understatement. I was haunted by it; and still am today.
In the weeks since I’ve seen the film, I’ve sat and wondered why I was as affected as I was by Sandy, and Karl Bury’s performance of him, and my only conclusion is that I saw a good portion of myself there, for good or bad. In all my years as a film critic, and the thousands of films that I’ve watched in that time, I’m not sure I’ve connected like this to any one character. And that speaks volumes to the power of Bury’s performance and Kushnier’s incredible script.
The Idea of Manhood won Best Screenplay and Best Film at the 2018 Phoenix Film Festival, and it deserves the accolades. This film is a snapshot of a day in the life of two 40-something friends, told in Samuel Beckett fashion. There is so much more here than just old college stories and tales of dates gone bad; there is deep personal subtext, and Serge Kushnier and his cast bring it to life with wondrous aplomb.
The Idea of Manhood is currently playing the festival circuit and hopefully will one day see a wider release in theaters. If it is playing at a festival or an art house near you, make it a priority to see this film. Growing up, and choosing to grow up are two very different things, and happiness is not a guaranteed by-product of living life. The Idea of Manhood reminds us all of that, and it is a reminder that I will never forget.
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