Sororal bonds run deep in this touching documentary.
“We were separated longer than we were together.”
Jang Hye-yeong was only young when her disabled sister Hye-jeong was sent to a special care home out in the middle of nowhere. From the ages of 13 to 30, Hye-jeong was there, with no say on whether or not she ever wanted to be. Choosing to house and look after her sister herself, director Jang moves to Seoul with her and they begin their life together, with Jang enlisting the help of her friends to rehabilitate and train her sister to operate within society.
Jang Hye-yeong starts filming immediately as her sister comes back into her life, and with that we get to see is how the two get along over time. Watching Jang come to grips with aspects of her sister she had not seen before is very humanising and the audience feels like they’re learning at the same rate as she is. We sympathise with Hye-jeong as she experiences frustration after frustration of living in a world where people can be strict, and say no. The two stars are naturally very cheerful and easy to watch, and it becomes very easy to root for them as the film progresses.
Grown Up’s biggest strength is in the way director/star Jang Hye-yeong lets everything happen organically. The documentary doesn’t necessarily have to be a perfect fly-on-the-wall, as the people behind the camera often get involved with what’s happening in the scene. Instead, the film feels more like a collection of home videos or YouTube vlogs. Jang has a lot she has to say, but she lets the film speak for itself and allows the audience to draw their own conclusions without being force-fed anything. There’s no real judgement on her part on the decision her parents made regarding her sister, nor is there much resentment.
Instead, she sees the present for what it is: an opportunity for change and to reestablish bonds that have been severed without her or her sister’s say. But things aren’t so moody: Moments of levity are countless, with the coffee-chugging Hye-jeong’s natural cheerfulness bubbling to the surface throughout. As her sister points out, during an art class: “You and I are shooting a comedy”, and in a way they are. It’s a buddy film through and through, and like the best in the genre, we really get to see the way they better one another as human beings.
What we’re left with is a truly delightful, life-affirming documentary loaded with tender moments and instances of genuine human compassion. Everyone has their moments of frustration, but within the context, you completely understand why. With its prominent theme of stability and family, it asks the hard questions on how we treat the disabled both as a society and within our circles, but remembers that the real differences are made by those we love.
Verdict: Effortlessly charming, Grown Up is easily one of the most endearing documentaries of 2018.
Overall entertainment: 9.5/10
Don’t watch Flubber, watch this: Moana
Soundtrack of choice: That weird song about grandmothers. What was that?
Picnic tables: Don’t all sit on one side!
Grown Up (2018)
Director: Jang Hye-yeong