Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Drama of Aging and Caregiving, on YouTube

From The NY Times:

“I don’t want to take care of them,” Erica confesses in Episode 12 to the man she’s just slept with, speaking about her elderly parents.

“Who does?” The man is the real estate broker who has just sold her parents’ home in San Francisco so that, after a year’s resentful debate, they can downsize.

“People do. Children do,” Erica replies. “They think of it as payback for all the sacrifices their parents made for them. They think it’s a privilege.”

“I don’t know those kinds of people,” he says.

Amy Lippman invented those characters, told them what to say, then directed all 13 episodes of “Ruth & Erica,” a YouTube drama about aging and caregiving. You can find the first one today on the female-centric channel called WIGS, which stands for Where It Gets Interesting.

“I decided to write about something I was experiencing, and all my friends were experiencing — parents who’d been independent and self-sufficient, but were beginning to need more support and guidance,” said Ms. Lippman, who’s in her late 40s. “It seems to have come as a shock to all of us.”

Each slickly produced “Ruth & Erica” episode runs about eight minutes. New ones will appear on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; all 13 will live indefinitely online.

Funny how the number of movies, TV shows and books that focus on aging, and on dementia in particular, keeps growing. “It’s sort of in the ether right now,” said Ms. Lippman, whose own parents recently sold their house — a painful step — in Northern California.

I recently saw “Robot & Frank,” for example. It’s set in “the near future” when, apparently, people have even schmancier phones and zippier minicars and wonderfully helpful caregiving robots, but dementia remains incurable and elder care issues provoke as much family tension as ever.

“Robot & Frank” didn’t climb into my personal Top Five Movies About Aging (since you asked: “Away from Her,” “The Iron Lady,” “The Savages,” “About Schmidt” and “Iris” — what’s your list?), but it had its charms.

“Ruth & Erica,” which unfolds over a year, goes deeper. The veteran actors Lois Smith (pictured) and Philip Baker Hall give wonderful, wrenching performances as Ruth and Harry Rappaport, who fight their only child’s suggestions of a move to a retirement community as Harry sinks into dementia.

Maura Tierney (pictured) seems a decade or two too young to be their daughter. Flying in for visits and crisis management, she doesn’t look nearly careworn and frazzled enough. But she’s otherwise a very believable Erica — funny and honest and willing to say aloud what lots of adult children think.

Producing scripted drama for the Web gave Ms. Lippman a shot at something that would have been hard to pull off in movies or television. “It’s an opportunity to tell an intimate, realistic story with absolutely no pyrotechnics,” she said.

In fact, it was so realistic that during production, “almost everyone who worked on the series, including the crew, came up to me and said, ‘My grandmother.’ ‘My parents.’ ‘My sister had to move in with my mother,’” Ms. Lippman said. “I felt this reverberation.”