The Same River Twice

dir. Moss

Opens Fri March 26

Cinema 21

When talking about the new documentary The Same River Twice, referencing The Big Chill is inevitable. In that 1983 Kevin Kline/Glenn Close blockbuster, a group of college friends reunite after one of their chums kills himself. They sit around, listen to R&B records, and talk about the integrity they've lost in their grown-up lives. In Same River Twice, the spirit is similar, but the premise far less contrived.

Instead the filmmaker simply revisits five friends. One has grown up to become the mayor of Ashland, Oregon; another the mayor of Placerville, California, and is bidding for re-election. Some have married; others have divorced. Some have kids; others bemoan choosing careers over families. One simply is doing the same thing he always has, but has grown a gray bushy beard.

Back in 1978, when they were all 24 years old, the group spent their final month of summer rafting down the Grand Canyon. Seemingly, most of the trip was spent naked, flaunting their youth and freedom. The footage from this trip serves as the undercurrent for the story. Director Robb Moss seamlessly splices clips from the trip between interviews with the same people a quarter century later. The result is a documentary nowhere as warm and cuddly as The Big Chill and much more weighty than reality TV. It is a sober, self-effacing and remarkably insightful look at growing up.

But it's difficult to pinpoint the main thrust of the film. Most likely, every person watching these individual lives unfold will have a different opinion. Some may identify with the couple that married shortly after the rafting trip, had two kids, divorced and are still trying to figure out how their carefree youth fits into their current responsibility-laden, career-driven adult lives. Others may identify with Jim, the charismatic trip leader who, beside six months at dentist school, has never quite left the eddy of the summer. He still lives out in nature. He still guides rafts. And he still dates 24-year-olds.

Director Moss doesn't pass judgement. He simply sits back and lets the camera roll. In an era crammed with hooky reality TV, this is a production that truly deserves recognition for capturing real life and its growing pains.