The Guys Next Door


Reviewed by: Jane Fae

The Guys Next Door
"This is a very happy documentary, telling a very ordinary story of an extraordinary family coping with the addition of a second child."

The Guys Next Door is a gentle, heart-warming documentary that follows, over a space of three years, the twists and turns in the making of a family for our times - a modern family; a complex family born of the necessities of gay marriage, same sex parenting and surrogacy.

At its heart are Erik and Sandro, a professional gay couple, in a state of panic as they rush around their apartment, five days away from moving from Manhattan to Maine. Central, too, but in different ways, are Rachel, who has already carried one donor egg on their behalf, her partner Tony and their three children. Then there is Rachel Maria (“la piccolina”), Erik and Sandro's first daughter and, shortly, Eleonora Francesca (“tata”), the soon to be born younger sister to la piccolina.

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This is a controversial, provocative sort of documentary. Well, controversial if you object to two individuals of the same sex falling in love and getting married. Provocative if you believe – as does the government of Italy, where Sandro was born – that surrogacy should be illegal.

Otherwise, what stands out is the happy ordinariness of it all. Rachel “loves being pregnant”. She has already put together her own rather more traditional nuclear family. What more natural than, on finding that her friends from college are in need of a surrogate mother, that she volunteer? As long as it keeps her happy, Tony does not object and her own children have fully bought into the idea that this is something that their mother does.

So, we see the intriguing evolution of gay parenthood and surrogacy towards the creation of a blended extended family. Because everyone stays in touch, family occasions spiral easily towards extended family occasions - ironic, perhaps, that despite claims that gay marriage will undermine more traditional marriage, it is exactly this type of relationship that is taking those involved back to a more communitarian ideal.

Along the way, there is contemplation of why the leading characters are as they are. Why Erik, perhaps to prove himself in a world in which merely to be gay was dangerous became a risk taker in a high-powered job; and why, despite their refusal to respond to the cliché question of, “Who's the woman in the relationship?”, divergent career paths and differing temperaments result almost inevitably to Sandro taking on the role of househusband. As Erik puts it, observing that both he and Sandro have strongly masculine and feminine aspects to their personality: “Two men raising two girls - all the gender stuff becomes simultaneously very important and meaningless”.

This is a very happy documentary, telling a very ordinary story of an extraordinary family coping with the addition of a second child. At times, as you coo over mealtime with Sandro, and la piccolina casually feeding her surplus pasta to the family hound, or Erik attempting to persuade Eleonora not to frown, it is too cute for words.

There are questions unanswered. It would have been interesting to explore more deeply the relationship between the two families at the heart of this story; to gain a little more insight into how the idea of extended family has proven in practice.

A shame, too, that the captioning is a little on the random side, subtitling, for instance, a voice-over by Sandro in slightly accented English. Also translating some – but not all – the remarks of his own family during a holiday in Italy, but not translating the delightful commentary he keeps up (in Italian) when interacting with his eldest daughter. And no doubt there will be critics who condemn this as little more than advertorial for a perverse lifestyle. Which would be sad because in a year that has so far brought us a more than usual portion of bad news, simple positivity has been in woeful short supply.

Does it matter that this documentary is less inquisitorial, less coldly analytical? No, because in their beautifully filmed feature-length production, Allie Humenuk and Amy Geller, who jointly took on the roles of director/producer, have delivered a simple observation, mediated through the words of la piccolina.

That it is possible for a child to have two dads and a surrogate mum and to live an ordinary, happy childhood. And while the introspection provided by various adults is interesting, that, in the end, is the single most important message to take away from this excellent little film.

Reviewed on: 24 Oct 2016
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A married woman in her 40s, with a husband and three children, is also the surrogate mother for her married gay friends' children.

Director: Amy Geller Allie Humenuk, Amy Geller, Allie Humenuk

Year: 2016

Runtime: 74 minutes

Country: US, Italy


DOC NYC 2016

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