42 Up

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This is the sixth installment of a series of documentaries by British director Michael Apted which began with 7 Up in 1962 and which has followed, at seven-year intervals, the fortunes of a group of boys and girls (now men and women) from varying backgrounds.

Part anthropological treatise and part marathon soap opera, the series has watched subjects evolve from open-faced children into defensive and sometimes sullen teenagers, who then grew into hopeful young adults and, lastly, somewhat more resigned grown-ups on the cusp of middle age. The films have been a testament to the fascination of the ordinary — nobody here is particularly remarkable by any objective measure and yet they all are, by dint of being human beings.

The film is filled with flashbacks from past episodes, so newcomers will have no problem following the various stories. If this particular installment is marginally less interesting than its predecessors, it’s because people don’t generally change that much between the ages of 35 and 42. Many of the characters are pretty close to where we left them, though a little more weathered and a little more settled.

The great exception to the lot has always been Neil, the young boy who wanted to be either an astronaut or a coach driver, but who grew up to be impoverished, homeless and teetering, by his own admission, on the edge of madness. Neil, one is happy to report, has managed to land in a safe place and has found an apt outlet for his particular abilities. This whole entry in the series, in fact, radiates a sense of momentary contentment.

Of course, it’s only the usual plateau one reaches before entering a future both common and profound.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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