Film Review: "My Generation" is self-congratulatory but intermittently charming
David Betty’s My Generation documents the rise of both Michael Caine’s acting career and British youth culture in the 1960s, taking us on a tour through this seemingly-delightful party of a decade. Caine’s reminiscent voiceover, popping in between crisply edited Rolling Stones, Who and Beatles remasters, serves as an authorial voice in this vision of Swingin’ Sixties London. His lofty and nostalgic tone would be nigh insufferable if it were anyone else. But, because it’s Michael Caine, his musings have the texture of effervescent mischief. No doubt about it: he makes for a hell of a tour guide.
Other famous folks from the era (Paul McCartney, Marianne Faithfull, Twiggy and David Bailey,) make appearances throughout the documentary to lesser effect, impersonally assuring us that the parties were indeed great and the birds pretty. That’s nice for them but, frankly, it doesn’t do a whole lot for me. Suffice it to say there isn’t much here in the way of depth or critical reflection. That kind of thing would spoil this ‘Remember When…’ party, I guess.
Though My Generation does brush up against some of the unglamorous elements of the transgressive art so shocking to polite society that it practically blew off their monocles and top hats, it’s only to make the crusty bourgeoisie the butt of a joke. Take, for example, one portly Rich Uncle Pennybags gentleman who expresses disdain toward the fashionable young working-class men who wore their hair long. “Distinguishing men from women is getting more difficult and is a matter of considerable inconvenience!” he comically bristles. It is funny at first, but My Generation constantly circles back to stuffy bores bemoaning the state of the youth like an obnoxious guy hammering a semi-funny joke to death.
My Generation is eager to impress upon the audience the restless, revolutionary spirit within the hungry youths eager to paint over the dreariness of a soggy, miserable London. But it’s as uncontroversial and inoffensive as a press release. It’s a loose string of platitudes and clichés. And what’s worse is that they’re coming out of Michael Caine’s mouth. “We’d pushed for change,” he informs us, “and change was pushing us back”. Even the sexual revolution amounts to little more than a mini skirt and a haircut in My Generation. It’s myopic, chestnut crap like this that cements the film as nothing more than a frivolous diversion.
Betty’s documentary is far from a disaster. It’s even entertaining, for the most part. But it’s impossible to shake the feeling that although he had access to a treasure trove of talent, archival footage, and decades of historical context, Betty seemed content to cram all of this into a cookie-cutter mould. It is only Michael Caine who elevates it. As he does with all things.
3 Stars out of 5
My Generation is part of the upcoming British Film Festival, which will run at the Windsor Cinema and Luna from October 26 to November 14.