Intergenerational Relationships
Feature-Length Films: 1970-2009

Resources for teaching
A miniature hopi grandparent doll
Compiled by
Robert E. Yahnke

University of Minnesota

**** = most highly recommended
*** = highly recommended
** = recommended
* = not recommended

Ratings are based on the quality of the intergenerational relationships portrayed in the films--in other words, relationships which reveal complex motivations and interactions, believable characters, and subtle resolutions.


Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, 1974. Dir. John Korty. Cast: Cicely Tyson, Michael Murphy. Based on the Ernest Gaines novel. An ex-slave, now 110 years old, reviews her life for a young print journalist. Intergeneration: The journalist grows to respect and affirm this old woman's wisdom and grasp of history. Miss Jane also is inspired by the young people of her community who are involved in the Civil Rights struggle. Consequently, she protests the mistreatment of her people in a climactic scene. Rating: **

Babette's Feast, 1987. Dir. Gabriel Axel. Based on a tale by Karen Blixen, the Danish writer, the film tells the story of a small remote village where two old sisters, Martina and Phillipa, never married, have lived a quiet life devoted to the religious community their father developed many years ago. Fourteen years ago a young woman entered the lives of the old woman--a refugee from the civil strife in Paris, a woman named Babette, who was recommended to the women by Phillipa's former suitor. Babette's presence is felt in the tiny community by her good works and her wonderful cooking. Intergeneration: The women's father is depicted in old age as being possessive and stern in his relationship with his daughters. He considers them to be his left and right hands, mercy and righteousness. He refuses to yield them to any suitors. Babette is welcomed by the old women and becomes an integral part of the community. When Babette is informed she has won the Paris lottery--10,000 francs--she uses the money to purchase the foodstuffs required to make a French dinner and serves it to the sisters and members of the dwindling religious community. The old people experience a memorable evening before resuming their simple ways. Rating: **

Cinema Paradiso, 1990. Dir. Giuseppe Tornatore. Cast: Phillipe Noiret. A middle-aged film producer, Salvatore, reviews his life as a child in post-World-War II Italy. He recalls his friendship with an old man, the town projectionist, and this man's influence on his life both as a child and as an adolescent. The old man, Alfredo, was blinded in a fire in the cinema when Salvatore was still a child. Intergeneration: The old projectionist, Alfredo, is a surrogate father to the boy (whose father died fighting on the Russian Front). When Salvatore is an adolescent, Alfredo continues to advise him and urges him to escape the confines of the small town and establish his independence. Salvatore receives a final insight into this intergenerational relationship in his middle age. Rating: ****

Cocoon, 1985. Dir. Ron Howard. Cast: Wilford Brimley, Maureen Stapleton, Don Ameche, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Steve Gutenberg. Florida retirees are rejuvenated to adolescent energy, sexuality, and hijinks when they swim in a pool containing pods of aliens. Somehow the old men are energized by something in the water, and their love lives and outlook on life are invigorated. Eventually, the miraculous powers of the pool are lost when scores of elders swarm the pool. In the climactic scene most of the old people decide to leave with aliens to their planet, where they will have eternal life. Intergeneration: A boy, lonely and confused after his mother's divorce, attaches himself to his grandfather and helps his grandfather escape with the aliens in the climactic scene; a young man who runs a charter fishing boat also assists the old people in their escape; the leader of the aliens, who takes the disguise of a middle-aged man, reacts sensitively to the needs of the old people. Rating: *½

Crimes and Misdemeanors, 1989. Dir. Woody Allen. Cast: Alan Alda, Woody Allen, Claire Bloom, Mia Farrow, Martin Landau, Angelica Huston, Sam Waterston. An opthamologist hires a hitman to murder his mistress and gets away with the crime. Intergeneration: The opthamologist asks the counsel of one of his patients, a rabbi (who is going blind), and later the rabbi celebrates the wedding of one of his daughters. A middle-aged documentary filmmaker (and hypochondriac) films an old anarchist and is impressed with his wisdom. Rating: ***

Dad, 1989. Dir. Gary David Goldberg. Cast: Jack Lemmon, Ted Danson, Olympia Dukakis, Ethan Hawke. Based on the William Wharton novel, the film depicts an adult son whose distant relationship to his parents is changed dramatically when the mother has a heart attack. Intergeneration: The son finds his father seemingly frail and demented. His consistent care and urging helps his father engage life again, despite the objections of the mother, who preferred her husband to be meek and submissive in the relationship. Eventually the father faces a life-threatening cancer, and the son remains at his bedside to the end. Rating: ***

Driving Miss Daisy, 1989. Dir. Bruce Beresford. Cast: Morgan Freeman, Jessica Tandy, Dan Aykroyd. An old woman, wealthy widow of an Atlanta businessman, is compelled to hire a chauffeur when her son realizes she should not drive a car anymore. After initial hostility toward the African-American chauffeur, she warms toward his presence and accepts him as an integral part of her life. The two grow old together, and after a relationship that spans 25 years, she declares him to be her best friend. Intergeneration: Daisy's adult son, Boolie, intimidated by his mother most of his life, finds in the chauffeur, Hoke Colburn, someone who can tolerate, and even manage, his mother. He witnesses his mother's aging, and Hoke's aging, and observes a grace and steadfastness in the characters of both. Rating: **

The Dresser, 1983. Dir. Ronald Harwood. Cast: Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay. An aging Shakespearean actor and his ragged troupe perform plays during World War II in England. Intergeneration: The relationship between the actor and his dresser is beset with complications. Norman, the dresser, is the old man's nursemaid, counselor, and confidant. In some respects he loves the old man. The old man's sudden death at the end of the film leaves Norman feeling abandoned in his grief. Rating: **½

Everybody's Fine [Stanno Tutti Bene], 1992. Dir. Giuseppi Tornatore. Cast: Marcello Mastrioni. In this homage to Fellini films, the filmmaker tells the story of Don Matteo, an old man, who leaves his home in Sicily a few years after his wife dies and embarks on a journey to the Italian mainland in order to visit all five of his children. His goal: to have everyone together at a restaurant in Rome for a family meal. He wants to believe that "everybody's fine," and that his children love him and respect him. Unfortunately, he learns that his children are unhappy, unfulfilled, and resent his abusiveness and unrealistic expectations as a father. He gains his wish--that everyone be together. But the circumstances are much changed: they gather around his hospital bed after a near-fatal heart attack. Intergeneration: Don Matteo and his children have become remote and emotionally distant. The children resist telling him that one of his sons committed suicide. The old man finds solace in relationships with his grandchildren, and he warns one of them not to make the mistakes he made in child rearing. Rating: **½

Fried Green Tomatoes, 1991. Dir. Jon Avnet. Cast: Jessica Tandy, Kathy Bates, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary-Louise Parker, Cicely Tyson. Based on the novel by Fannie Flagg. Jessica Tandy plays Ninny Threadgoode, an old woman in nursing home, who is befriended by a timid, overweight, middle-aged woman named Evelyn. The latter returns to visit Mrs. Threadgoode after the old woman begins to tell her a story of events in the life of people from Whistle Stop, a small town in Georgia. The old woman's story focuses on the friendship and love between Ruth and Idgy. Intergeneration: Evelyn, struggling to reawaken love in her marriage, and striving to increase her self-esteem in middle age, gains strength and self-confidence by listening to the story of Idgy. The old woman finds someone to whom she can tell the story of her own life (Mrs. Threadgoode and Idgy are the same person) as a way to pay homage to her love for Ruth and to pass on the values of past generations to a new generation. In doing so, Mrs. Threadgoode makes a new friend, who becomes so devoted to her that she invites Mrs. Threadgoode to live with her. Rating: ***

Going in Style, 1979. Cast: George Burns, Art Carney, Lee Strasberg. Three old men spend their days in New York City on park benches. Then one day one of the three decides it's time to rejoin the parade of life--his idea, rob a bank. The three pull off the robbery and stash the money in safety deposit boxes. Two of the three men die in their sleep, but not before each has tasted life again and savored it deeply. The third old man finally is apprehended by the police, and he is content to live out his days in prison. Intergeneration: One of the old men confides in a nephew and arranges for the nephew to "inherit" the money from the robbery. Rating: *½

Harold and Maude, 1971. Dir. Hal Ashby. Cast: Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort. An eccentric 79-year-old woman befriends a lonely, confused 20-year-old son of a rich Los Angeles family who has become obsessed with death. Harold loves to attend funerals and perform bizarre and theatrical suicides--all to get his mother's attention. Intergeneration: Maude listens to Harold's concerns, becomes his mentor, friend, companion, and lover. But the purpose of her relationship with Harold is to help him establish his own independent identity, to free him to go out into the world and love some more. Rating: ***

Harry and Tonto, 1974. Dir. Paul Mazursky. Cast: Art Carney, Ellen Burstyn. An old man, evicted from his apartment in New York City, moves in with his son and family on Long Island, and then escapes to the road with his orange cat Tonto. Intergeneration: Harry encounters a confused grandson, a young hippie on the road, a Las Vegas hooker. Everywhere he turns he experiences exciting adventures and eventually resolves his wanderlust. Rating: **

Kotch, 1971. Dir. Jack Lemmon. Cast: Walter Matthau. An irascible old man, Joe Kotcher, lives with his son and his wife and provides superb day-care for his grandson. But his presence is resented by the daughter-in-law, and eventually he takes a long bus trip to consider his options. When he returns to Los Angeles, and realizes he is no longer wanted in their house, he moves to Palm Springs in order to check on the progress of Erica, a high school student who was a former babysitter for the family. Intergeneration: Kotch is a patient and able listener. He helps Erica resolve her frustrations about being pregnant. Eventually the young woman moves in with Kotch, they share their life stories, and Kotch supports her decision to keep the child. After Erica leaves, Kotch settles in to a fulfilling old age. Rating: **

Local Hero, 1983. Dir. Bill Forsyth. Cast: Burt Lancaster, Peter Riegert. A young manager of an oil company is sent to Scotland to bargain with the locals and purchase rights to build an oil refinery on the bay near a remote village. Intergeneration: The young man is overwhelmed by the eccentricities of the townsfolk, seduced by the sense of community he finds there, and outdueled by an old fisherman who lives in a shack on the beach; an oil executive, played by Burt Lancaster, visits the village and commits himself to this simpler way of life. Rating: **

Lost in Yonkers, 1993. Dir. Martha Coolidge. Cast: Mercedes Ruehl, Richard Dreyfuss, Irene Worth. A middle-aged son, desperate to earn money during World War II and support his two boys and his ailing wife, drops the boys off at his grandmother's house in Yonkers so that he can travel the South to collect scrap metal for the War Effort. Intergeneration: The two boys are intimidated and fearful of their imposing German Jew grandmother; the old woman's daughter, who is developmentally disabled, and her son, who is a petty gangster, eventually confront their mother in their own ways and earn psychological victories over her domination. Rating: ****

Madame Rosa, 1978. Dir. Moshe Mizrahi. Cast: Simone Signoret. A former prostitute, now in her 60s, is a nursemaid for various children of prostitutes and other abandoned children in a Paris flat. Her favorite child is Momo, short for Mohammed, an Arab boy (eleven years old) dropped off by his parents eleven years ago. The flat is a community of sorts, and Madame Rosa is respected as the heart and soul of that community. Now in failing health, she hangs on to the dwindling number of her charges, tries to find homes for them, and struggles to protect Momo from life on the street. Intergeneration: Madame Rosa is a surrogate mother for her charges; her love and concern for Momo is the primary intergenerational relation; the tenants in the apartment flat respect Madame Rosa and offer their assistance when needed. Rating: ***

Madame Sousatzka, 1988. Dir. John Schlesinger. Cast: Shirley MacLaine, Peggy Ashcroft, Navin Chowdhry. From the novel by Bernice Rubens. An eccentric piano teacher in London, daughter of a famous pianist and teacher, takes on a new pupil--a young Bengali immigrant, whose mother hopes he will become a famous concert pianist someday. Intergeneration: Madame Sousatzka's student, Manek, comes to admire the unconventional methods and firm values of his teacher. He also befriends an elderly gay man who lives in his teacher's apartment. Rating: **

Nothing in Common, 1986, Dir. Garry Marshall. Cast: Jackie Gleason, Tom Hanks, Eva-Marie Saint. An advertising wizard, on the fast track to a partnership in his firm, is sidetracked when he learns that his parents have separated after 36 years. Intergeneration: The son, who has been estranged from his father, reestablishes a relationship with the father and helps him through a difficult surgery. At the same time the son accepts his mother's decision to leave his father. Rating: *½

On Golden Pond, 1981. Dir. Mark Rydell. Cast: Katherine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda. An adult daughter, who never resolved feelings of inadequacy around her father in her childhood, visits her parents' summer home on a pond in Maine in order to introduce them to her future husband (her second marriage). Her fiancé and her visit France for a month and leave the man's thirteen-year-old son with her parents. Intergeneration: the boy's adolescent macho and cynicism are deflated through his interactions with the old couple; and the adult daughter reconciles with her father after realizing that his rejection of her affections in childhood have been replaced with an honest affirmation of her adult choices. Rating: **½

The Postman [Il Postino], 1995. Dir. Michael Radford. Cast: Phillipe Noiret, Massimo Troisi. An illiterate postman on a remote island off Italy is befriended by the legendary poet, Pablo Neruda, during the latter's exile from his native Chile. Intergeneration: Neruda becomes the young man's guide and mentor. He inspires the young man to become a poet, to find his own voice and to express his yearnings, and to expose himself to risks in order to achieve commitment and enjoy life to the fullest. Rating: ***

Red, 1994. Dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski. Cast: Irene Jacob, Jean-Louis Trintignant. The third of three films based on the symbolism of the French Tricolour--Blue, White, and Red. A young model in Geneva, Switzerland, befriends a retired judge, who has retreated to his house and eavesdropped on his neighbors for recreation. When the judge turns himself in to the police, the young model returns to explore the significance of their friendship. Intergeneration: The old man is impressed with the young woman's compassion and empathy. Their friendship stimulates him to terminate his retreat from society and reconnect himself to society. His advice helps the young woman liberate herself from confining relationships and seek happiness in a new life abroad. Rating: ***½

The Sunshine Boys, 1975. Dir. Herbert Ross. Cast: Walter Matthau, George Burns, Richard Benjamin. Two former vaudevillians, Al Lewis and Willie Clark, are reunited for a television appearance on a retrospective of comedy. Intergeneration: Willie's nephew and also his agent works hard to unite the team and eventually is rewarded when his uncle begins to treat him like a member of his family. Rating: *

Tell Me a Riddle, 1980. Dir. Lee Grant. Cast: Melvyn Douglas, Lila Kedrova, Karen Allen. Based on the Tillie Olsen novella, the film portrays an old couple, estranged in their old age, the husband wanting to retreat to an old people's home, and the wife retreating to memories of her political coming of age as a teenager in Russia. When the wife is diagnosed with cancer, the couple visit their children and end up in San Francisco, where they are taken in by a grandchild. Intergeneration: The couple's children are unable to grasp the intricacies of the parent's conflicts; but the grandchild, a woman in her 20s, acts as an intermediary to bring the old couple together again before the grandmother dies. Rating: ***

The Trip to Bountiful, 1985. Dir. Peter Masterson. Cast: Geraldine Page, John Heard, Rebecca De Mornay. Screenplay by Horton Foote. Mrs. Watts, an old woman, experiences discord and disharmony in the Houston household of her son and daughter-in-law in the 1940s and dreams of one day returning to visit her home in the small town of Bountiful, Texas. One day she makes her "escape," and takes the bus to a nearby town twelve miles from Bountiful. Upon arriving there, she learns that a childhood friend died two days earlier. A kind sheriff drives her to what remains of the old town and she revisits her abandoned home. Intergeneration: Mrs. Watts is barely tolerated by her daughter-in-law in her son's household; but her son and she still are close and able to have heart-to-heart talks. On the bus Mrs. Watts befriends a young woman, married one year, and she sees in the young woman what her daughter (who died a small child) could have been. Mrs. Watts and her son reminiscence together for the first time when he comes to pick her up at her house. Rating: ***½

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