TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! “Dirty laundry” is such a perfect euphemism for secrets, especially of the familial variety, never meant to be glimpsed by outside eyes.
With the title of his intimate, incisive documentary Socks on Fire, writer/director Bo McGuire knowingly alludes to that idea. McGuire lays bare an ugly dispute that has soiled the family life he once cherished, and he seems to know as well as anyone that there’s a sadness and shame at the heart of this story that isn’t easily or comfortably shared. But, still, he presses forward, always with a wry sense of humor and an endearing touch of eccentricity that counterbalance the emotional heaviness of the material. And as he – at first, somewhat hesitatingly – reveals the darkness that has settled over his family home, McGuire also exposes a deep well of reflection and compassion within himself.
“McGuire lays bare an ugly dispute that has soiled the family life he once cherished.”
The film begins with a question: “What do you do with what the dead leave behind – do you fight for it, or do you set it on fire?” “The dead,” in this case, refers to McGuire’s grandmother Evelyn (affectionately known as Nanny), the beloved matriarch of his Alabaman family who passed away in 2011. What Nanny has left behind for her four children, along with cherished memories, is exactly what one might expect: some money, family heirlooms, and, most importantly, the house where she and her husband raised them. That modest, cozy home is set aside for Nanny’s youngest son, McGuire’s Uncle John, but Aunt Sharon (the baby of the family, at least until John came along) seeks to wrest ownership of it away from him – essentially, kicking her baby brother out into the street.
This conflict among siblings is a fairly common one, and, sadly, the underlying motivations behind it aren’t all that unusual, either. In short: John, like his filmmaker nephew Bo, is gay, and the obstinate Sharon disapproves of his sexuality, clinging to her religious beliefs alongside her similarly intolerant husband.
Because he’s the oldest of Nanny’s grandchildren, Bo is the most privy as to what’s going on in the family. And with his closeness also comes a certain responsibility to preserve not only Nanny’s memory but also her ideals for the generations that would follow her. Socks on Fire is, thus, a way of addressing that responsibility. Still, the film also seeks to frame Bo’s own identity within the context of what his grandmother has both consciously and inadvertently left behind.
"…As he reveals the darkness that has settled over his family home, McGuire also exposes a deep well of reflection and compassion within himself"