This Boy’s Life 1993
R | 1h 55min | Biography, Drama | 23 April 1993 (USA)
In 1957, a son and mother flee the East and an abusive boyfriend to find a new life, and end up in Seattle, where the mother meets a polite garage mechanic. The boy continually gets into trouble by hanging out with the wrong crowd. The mom marries the mechanic, but they soon find out that he’s an abusive and unreasoning alcoholic, and they struggle to maintain hope in an impossible situation as the boy grows up with plans to escape the small town by any means possible. Based on a true story by Tobias Wolff.
This was a very haunting, sometimes very difficult story to watch unfold on screen. It was one of the first films I recollect seeing when I went berserk collecting tons of VHS tapes in the mid-90s. I had never heard of Leonardo DiCaprio, but I’m just I wasn’t alone as this was his second or third time on screen. Anyway, he certainly gave a powerful performance and served notice he was going to be a “big name” actor.
Basically, it’s about teenage kid and his mom trying to survive the mean father-husband of the family in a small town during the 1950s. Robert De Niro plays the dad and Ellen Barkin, the mom. This may be the only film I’ve seen in which Barkin actually played the nicest person of the leads!! Leo plays “Tobias Wolffe;” De Niro, “Dwight Hansen” and Barkin, “Caroline Hansen.” She had remarried Hansen after having “Toby” earlier, hence the surname “Wolffe.”
What made this story tough for me was that, to be honest, neither father nor son were nice guys, although De Niro’s character was far worse. The struggles – and that’s putting it tactfully – between father and son were really nasty. Yet, as unpleasant at is, the story is memorable and it haunted me for several days, especially since it is “based” on a true story. How much of this was true, I can’t say, but it is a dramatic story you will not dismiss. However, watching dysfunctional families and hearing a lot of verbal abuse is not fun, so be warned.
Director: Michael Caton-Jones
Writers: Tobias Wolff (book), Robert Getchell (screenplay)
Stars: Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Barkin