Here is a richly detailed and lovingly developed film about family feeling written and directed by Barry Levinson (Rain Man). This engaging story appeals to young and old alike with its authentic depiction of the changes and challenges an immigrant clan undergoes over a 50-year period.
Sam Krichinsky arrives in Baltimore from Russia on July 4, 1914. He joins his four brothers in the row house neighborhood of Avalon. During the week, they labor as wallpaper hangers; on weekends, they perform as musicians for local dances. Sam eventually leaves the family business to run a nightclub.
Every Thanksgiving, the extended Krichinsky clan gathers for a shared meal. It is now 1948. Sam (Armin Mueller Stahl) and his wife Eve (Joan Plowright) live with their son Jules (Aidan Quinn), his wife Ann (Elizabeth Perkins), and son Michael (Elijah Wood). Jules and his cousin Izzy (Kevin Pollock) have Americanized their last names and are about to open Baltimore's first discount appliance store.
Following the success of this business venture, Jules and Izzy move their families to the suburbs leaving behind the other relatives in Avalon. Television and new priorities replace old family traditions and rituals. A feud between Sam and his cantankerous brother Gabriel (Lou Jacobi) brings to the surface long-standing hurts and jealousies in the Krichinsky family circle.
When his grandparents eventually move into their own home, Michael is terribly disappointed. However, during a time when he desperately needs support and advice, he turns to his grandfather, and Sam does not disappoint him.
After Eve dies, Sam moves to a nursing home. Michael, now grown up, visits him with his own son. And when they leave the place, Michael keeps Sam's off-repeated story of first arriving in America alive by telling it to the boy.
Avalon is the third film writer and director Barry Levinson has set in his hometown of Baltimore following Diner (1982) and Tin Men (1987). It is autobiographical. "We changed and altered something that had been strong," he has said of the family as depicted in Avalon, "and we haven't been able to replace it. The family structure acted as a support system. . . . It instilled a sense of morality and acted as an educational force. There's no question that the family as we've known it in the past has come apart."
Avalon charts in a realistic way the forces that have irreparably affected that nuclear unit of the past, but it doesn't stop there. The emotional undertow of the film goes straight to the heart with its touching depictions of suburban childhood, marital phases, family feuds, and the delights of grandparenting.