Tom Quinn’s film, “The New Year Parade,” uses preparations for the traditional New Years Mummers Parade as the background for a story about a family in the throes of divorce. The Martha’s Vineyard Film Society will screen “The New Year Parade” on Saturday, Jan. 16, at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven.
Philadelphia celebrates New Year’s Day with the Mummers Parade, a local tradition dating back to the 17th century in which bands primarily from South Philadelphia neighborhood clubs dress up in elaborate costumes and plan elaborate musical numbers in hopes of winning the annual grand prize.
The film opens with the McMonogul family in the process of falling apart. Mother Lisa (Ann McDonald) has been unfaithful, and her husband Mike (Andrew Conway) has moved out. The family’s two kids, 16-year-old Kat (Jennifer Lynn-Welsh) and her older brother Jack (Greg Lyons), are trying to make sense out of what has happened to their once stable family life.
Mike captains a Philadelphia string band that has included three generations of McMonoguls. But Jack has grown so disgusted by his parents’ inability to resolve their differences and his father’s abusive behavior that he is contemplating joining a rival band.
As the viewer learns about the lives of the family, they also see how the planning for the annual Mummers event unfolds. Mike’s band, which placed 13th in the previous year’s competition, decides to recreate an Egyptian extravaganza that won a prize for another band several years earlier.
Jack, convinced that his dad’s band is second rate, is skeptical. In the meantime Kat struggles with the sexual demands of her hockey-playing boyfriend.
This independent film has won prizes at the 2009 Slamdance Festival and the IFP Gotham Awards. It has the raw, unmediated feel of the mumblecore movement, where everyday life looms large and no attempt is made to glam up a storyline that evolves in its own, natural way.
The pain generated when parents cannot mend the cracks in a relationship gives “The New Year Parade” a sense of authenticity that engrosses the viewer. Kat hovers of the brink of maturity without the support she should get from her parents, who, while they clearly care for her, are too preoccupied with their own problems to support their sometimes confused daughter.
Jack is more independent, and although he still lives at home and seems to have a stable, satisfying relationship with his girlfriend, he finds himself compelled to act as mediator between his wrangling parents, and to protect his more vulnerable younger sister.
The background provided by the 300-year-old Mummers Parade tradition gives additional substance to “The New Year Parade.” These are no bland, upper middle-class suburbanites, but solid, working-class urban American citizens.
Mike works on the Philadelphia docks and his estranged wife, who holds down several jobs, struggles to pay the mortgage on the family’s house now that her husband has moved out. Kat needs to decide whether to live with her dad or mom, and Jack is making plans to move out and live on his own.
Divorce is never pretty, and “The New Year Parade” captures the pain it causes in a way that feels insightful rather than maudlin or melodramatic.
“The New Year Parade,” Saturday, Jan. 16, 7:30 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. Tickets $8 (MV Film Society members $5). Doors open at 7 pm. For more information, see mvfilmsociety.com.
Brooks Robards writes about film for The Times.