About a decade ago I read Robert Bly’s The Sibling Society and thought, damn, it’s time to grow up. Around that same time, Sharon Hyman put her camera on a tripod, stared into the lens, and asked the very legitimate question: What does it mean to grow up and why aren’t I doing it? Never married, childless, no discernable career, renting, she possessed none of the conventional “markers” of adulthood. She was the arrivist who never quite got there. As she says at one point, “There are early bloomers, there are late bloomers, and then there are the never bloomers.”
Jump ahead a decade and faster than you can read a dictionary in Mandarin, Sharon Hyman, Montreal flâneure, has finally finished her film. Neverbloomers: The Search for Grownuphood, premiering Monday on CBC’s documentary channel, is Hyman’s ode to the broken record of perpetual adolescence.
It’s a charming film. Hyman is neurotic and vain enough to look natural in front of the camera. Her monologues and voice overs are witty and poignant. As fellow filmmaker Peter Wintonick, one of the friends interviewed in the film, says, “You’re a Woodette Allen.” Unlike Woody Allen, however, she can share the misery pedestal with others. Of her Neverbloomers co-filmmaker she says, “Luckily I have my best friend Naomi (Levine), who’s always at the same place in life as me: nowhere.”
Interspersed throughout are film clips from the 1950s and 60s. Some of them home movies, showing her parents frolicking on the beach and at parties, looking happy and decidedly grown up. Other bits are from those little “educational” films which, if you went to school any time prior to 1980, must surely haunt your memories. “Popularity, what is it made of?” asks one film as a group of girls gather at a house for a party. “No,” admonishes the narrator, “girls who park in cars are not really popular.” You might like watching Mad Men, but you wouldn’t have wanted to live it.
These clips are used as a counter point to the more contemporary aimlessness of Hyman’s life. But I couldn’t help thinking that I’d be an emotional wreck too if I compared my life to antiseptic 1950s standards. As the last decade before the “birth” of adolescence, it was a kind of grown up paradise. Even 13 year olds looked grown up in the 1950s.
Everybody’s an expert in Hyman’s film about what it means to be an adult. But after the rabbi, the professor, grandparents, old boyfriends, the random woman in the doctor’s office, and the neighbours, perhaps the best advice is delivered by the perpetually elegant Guita, Hyman’s mother: “There is an art to living. You just develop that art.“
Hyman’s been talking about this film for so long that she was starting to sound like the girl who cried Neverbloomers. But not only did she prove her detractors wrong, she has produced a genuine, idiosyncratic, charmer of a documentary. I hope she makes another one. Soon. Before she’s too old.
Neverbloomers: The Search for Grownuphood, directed by Sharon Hyman, premiering on CBC’s documentary channel, Monday, 27 February, 8pm