The Way We Get By
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Chris Barsanti, The Hollywood Reporter It's the deep well of compassion behind it that helps make The Way We Get By such a stirring experience. In its heartfelt portrayal of three seniors who stave off their own mortality by steadfastly and cheerfully greeting every plane of returning soldiers landing at their small-town airport, Aron Gaudet's film rages with quiet dignity against the dying of the light. With Hollywood dramas doing their best to ignore the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the stream of non-fiction films having dried up to a trickle, films like Aron Gaudet's wrenching, The Way We Get By, are even more important than they otherwise would be. This isn't to say that Gaudet's documentary has even a hint of an eat-your-broccoli lecture to it-that couldn't be further from the truth. But while watching the film it's hard to escape the sense that one is witnessing a dispatch from a lonely outpost of the forgotten wars. Gaudet's film follows three seniors in Bangor, Maine, who have spent much of the last several years at the airport (a modest facility whose International status seems mostly honorary) greeting soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The two men and one woman are part of a loose volunteer network who show up any time of the day or night to offer hugs, cookies, phone calls home to Mom, and the occasional off-color joke to the dazed youngsters waiting for the flight that will actually take them home. If Gaudet had been content to simply show some well-meaning volunteer work and the soldiers' undeniably grateful response, he wouldn't have had much of a film. But under his skillful and patient control, The Way We Get By, becomes a bracing portrait of three fascinating individuals who use this work as a means to keep living. The widowed 86-year-old World War II veteran Bill Knight might be heavily in debt and stuck in a fantastically decrepit house (his housekeeping is of Grey Gardens caliber), but standing under fluorescent lighting and giving hearty well-wishes seems to be what he lives for. The same goes for the breezily convivial and barrel-chested Jerry Mundy, 73, whose personal assessments are as forceful 'If I weren't so old and fat, I'd go [to fight]' as they are revealing 'I don't know what I'll do when they all come home.' Not surprisingly, Gaudet's 75-year-old mother Joan provides one of the film's most potent elements. A saintly-seeming worrier who has to use a walker but doesn't let that stop her from driving out to the airport in the middle of the night, Joan appears close to tears just at the thought of yet more soldiers getting on planes (something she can't watch). It's this kind of soul-sickening concern, and the deep well of compassion behind it, that helps make, The Way We Get By, such a stirring experience. As the three volunteers dutifully smile and chat with all those who have escaped death on faraway battlefields, they confront mortality on their own. Jerry waits in his truck by the airport with his faithful dog, watching for the troop planes and trying not to remember the tragic demise of his son. Meanwhile, Bill fights off prostate cancer, and Joan tries not to think about her granddaughter Amy, soon deploying to Iraq as a medevac pilot. No matter what they have to contend with, though, the only thing these three would really seem to complain about is the war itself, which continually lurks in the background of this bright but death-shrouded film as a horrible thing indeed but nevertheless a reason to keep getting up in the morning. --Chris Barsanti, The Hollywood Reporter
A selfless salute to the troops The Way We Get By, writer-director Aron Gaudet's deeply felt look at three selfless elderly Maine residents who serve as troop greeters at the Bangor International Airport (a gateway point of U.S. departure and entry), is filled with a rare honesty and intimacy that makes for a rewarding, if largely heartbreaking, film experience. Gaudet respectfully profiles the waning lives of his mother, Joan Gaudet, 75, and her co-volunteers Jerry Mundy, 74, and Bill Knight, 87, who trek to the airport at all hours to welcome returning troops and bid goodbye to those leaving for Iraq and Afghanistan. These three widowed seniors' civic duties give their days a much-needed structure and purpose, along with a diversion from their financial, health and emotional setbacks. For the matriarchal Joan, these troubles include bad knees and worry over two grandchildren's imminent deployments to Iraq; for chatty Jerry, it's heart disease and the aging of his beloved dog; eccentric World War II veteran Bill must deal with cancer, massive debt and depression. These everyday heroes, who never pass judgment on our nation's current war efforts, compellingly bare their souls here, facing their mortality as profoundly as do any of the soldiers they meet on a daily basis. Bring your handkerchiefs. --Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times
Top Customer Reviews
Real Americans in 'The Way We Get By'
By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer Published-Friday, Oct. 2, 2009
Their first contact with U.S. soil is the single asphalt runway at Bangor International Airport in Maine. The first citizen they see is often Bill Knight, posture stooped, pushing 90, wearing his World War II veteran cap, pumping the hand of every service member who deplanes after tours of Iraq or Afghanistan. Knight, troop greeter at this gateway airport, is one of three senior citizens who are profiled, challenged and honored by "The Way We Get By," a lyrical documentary guaranteed to jerk tears and tug hearts over and over during its tight, haikulike 86 minutes.
No one comes home in a body bag. There are no dusty dispatches from Baghdad or Helmand province. There are no protests. There is no rhetoric. It's not that kind of war documentary. "The Way We Get By" is about three people, not about military or political combat. It strikes a deep, rich vein of emotion that flows through America's elderly, and it should be required viewing for those who think they know exactly what America is about.
Bill Knight, Joan Gaudet and Jerry Mundy (average age: 78) are dream subjects for a documentarian. They have the right mix of sass and wisdom and are naturals in front of a camera. They greet military transport planes that land at the airport, sometimes arriving at 4 a.m. with bright smiles and warm hugs, and they grapple with the rubs of old age at home. Knight, a widower with cancer, staves off a creeping loneliness in a farmhouse overrun with cats and empty cans of Alpo.Read more ›
Specifically, the three seniors we meet and come to know are Joan Gaudet, William Knight and Gerald Mundy. Joan, an elderly widow, retains a feisty personality. Despite her having to take seventeen pills a day of prescription medication, we see Joan driving to the Bangor airport at all hours of the day or night and she scarcely ever complains. William, a rather lonesome elderly man who misses his late wife as well as his time in the military, also routinely makes it to the airport despite his cancer.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I've had my students watch this 2 years in a row. Great stories that evoke compassion & gratitude. Our oldsters and especially our Veterans need to share their stories and we need... Read morePublished 15 months ago by Michelle Lindell
This documentary was a snapshot of a group of people who live in 'America'. Despite it's purported topic it really isn't political in nature. Read morePublished 19 months ago by Mark W.Cripps
If you think one person cannot make a difference ---watch this movie.
Heroes greeting heroes. Thank YOU Maine Troop Greeters!
Though this DVD is centered around three main "characters" (Bill, Joan & Jerry) it's also about all of the troop greeters at the Bangor Maine airport. Read morePublished on July 16, 2012 by G. Hearn
This is a movie that everyone should see. It shows the deep appreciation and admiration we have for our troops. Read morePublished on April 3, 2012 by Rabbit
The small town of Bangor, Maine is the possessor of surprising asset: as the easternmost international airport in the US, its freakishly long (2+ mile), wide runway and location on... Read morePublished on December 17, 2011 by Andy Orrock