Paul Reiser wrote and stars in The Thing About My Folks, a new feature film which opens September 16. But more importantly, he has mined his life to create a rich family portrait that resonates with families everywhere, not just those in the New York Jewish milieu in which he is intimate.
In the Picturehouse movie, Reiser’s character, Ben Kleinman, lives in the city with his wife and two young daughters. One night, Ben’s father arrives, unexpectedly, announcing that his wife has left him. Ben and his three sisters mobilize to track down their missing mother; Ben and his father also go upstate to look at a house, which leads to an extended father/son road trip.
Reiser, who grew up in Stuyvesant Town, lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two sons, but his family makes regular visits to the city. Since the concept of an apartment was foreign to his kids, Reiser says that when his children first saw the entire Stuyvesant Town complex, they assumed that he had grown up rich, in such a huge building.
The family in The Thing About My Folks considers a move to the country, but ultimately decides to stay in Manhattan. Living in the city was not an option for the Reisers, because of his career, but Reiser says every work decision he makes is based on what it means to his family. He weighs acting opportunities against being away from his family, trying to be around as much as possible.
Having grown up like the character in the movie, with three older sisters, Reiser remembers not always being able to get the quality time he wanted. He is careful not to “promise what you can’t deliver.” He says he particularly responds to requests to play because “you’re never going to have a bad time playing with your kids.” He is also cognizant that with one child about to turn 10 (his other son is almost 5), the times that they will want to play with him are limited.
Reiser started writing The Thing About My Folks in his 20s, when he didn’t have kids; he says it’s a vastly different movie now, having been completed in his 40s, and as a parent. Although the focus is on the father/son relationship, he says he tried to infuse the movie with “what I love about fatherhood.” Indeed, one of the most touching moments comes when the father mimics a bedtime ritual he has witnessed his son performing with his children. Reiser says the greatest validation a parent can give his child is to compliment his parenting style.
When asked what his children have missed not growing up in New York, Reiser doesn’t hesitate. “Bundling up – they don’t even know what that means,” he jokes. In a more serious vein, he adds that he has “no family history in Los Angeles. I connect my childhood here.” So he makes sure to instill a sense of history about New York in his children, from theater to where Babe Ruth played. He also credits the publishing industry, noting that with so many picture books set here, his kids have long been familiar with the sights of the Big Apple.