By Lynn Venhaus
Every family face challenges, and especially when roles are reversed – when children must care for their parents.
The new documentary, “It’s Not a Burden,” hits close to home. Filmmaker Michelle Boyaner, an Emmy nominee for “Packed in a Trunk: The Lost Art of Edith Lake Wilkinson” in 2016, tells a very personal story without losing her wit or determination.
Subtitled “The Humor and Heartache of Raising Elderly Parents,” the documentary explores the time in life where we become our parents’ caretakers. Boyaner featured more than 20 families from different parts of the country who are caring for their aging loved ones, including her own experiences with her mother and father.
People of a certain age will glimpse themselves here – or at least their loved ones – as the circle of life doesn’t leave any of us out.
Boyaner’s parents divorced and her mother, after converting to Mormonism, moved to Utah and left her eight children with her ex-husband. When she returned after remarrying, she had to repair those relationships. Boyaner shows her mother Elaine in an assisted living facility and her dad Morris has a hoarding problem.
She uses a copious amount of family photos to share her experience, and any Baby Boomer will recognize the era of growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. Comparing the journey to an amusement park outing is very funny – and rings true.
As candid as she is, Boyaner’s other subjects are just as revelatory about their struggles and trying to do what’s right when it’s hard. And no matter how much we wish things would not change, that’s not what happens when time marches on. These universal feelings are expressed by Cecelia and Manuela in California, Maxine, Sally and Esther in Pittsburgh, and Brother Kenneth.
The personalities of these seniors in their 80s and 90s, so colorfully depicted, are what’s memorable. The interaction with their adult children or caretakers have warmth, humor and – let’s face it, exasperation.
It’s difficult when loved ones experience the cruel decline of dementia or physical challenges inevitable with aging.
But something happens when those roles are reversed. And that’s what’s noticeable here. We have richer relationships – whether it’s a child taking care of a parent or a friend supporting a friend. And the sense of communities coming together is good to see.
The film, above all, conveys a lot of love. And with the laughter, the no-frills documentary is a journey that you will identify with, no matter what stage you are in life. We all experience loss — it’s the love and laughter that will get us through it.
After the year we’ve had, a new appreciation for family and what we take for granted has surfaced. This film reminds us to hang on and be there for others. We’re all just trying the best that we can.
“It’s Not a Burden” is a 2021 documentary by Michelle Boyaner. It is not rated and runs 84 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: B. The film is available Video on Demand.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.