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With: n/a
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Robb Moss
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 78
Date: 01/18/2003

The Same River Twice (2003)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Hippie Home Movies

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

2003 turned heads as the Year of the Documentary, starting with Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine setting the record for highest-grossing doc of all time and taking home the Oscar, and continuing with a series of high-quality, high-profile releases like Capturing the Friedmans and Spellbound that actually drew paying viewers into the theaters.

Of 2003's many other docs, The Same River Twice is the first one that betrays that excitement and stoops to the level of a reality TV show.

For The Same River Twice, filmmaker Robb Moss took a handful of film footage from a 1978 river rafting trip and integrated it with modern-day footage of five of the original participants.

The film somewhat resembles Michael Apted's extraordinary series of Up documentaries, which follow the lives of a cross-section of British citizens every seven years. But The Same River Twice focuses on a group of friends from roughly the same political and economic background and only reveals two periods: youth and adulthood.

I suppose most of the appeal comes from the fact that as youths, many of the river rafters were hippies and cavorted naked while being filmed. And it's always amusing to see such free-spirited, anti-establishment hippies turn into complete and total cogs in the American Dream machine; two of the hippies even held political office.

The rest of the appeal comes in the form of Jim, who still lives the life of a hippie and still works as a river guide. The friction between Jim and the rest of the established characters should be the source of some interesting drama, but Moss can't seem to figure out what to say about his friends other than showing us a "before" and "after" picture.

If the film works for any length of time -- it only runs for 78 minutes -- it's because of the same peeping tom-ism of a reality show. We peer into the lives of these normal people and look through their medicine cabinets, so to speak. That only goes so far for me. I needed something more; something like the scene of Barry describing that having three kids has put his aging into perspective. That's the kind of wisdom the Up films have to offer in nearly every frame.

Instead, The Same River Twice comes across as two sets of home movies spliced together; we watch politely but secretly can't wait to go home.

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