Avalon (1990, PG) is a two-hour period drama that follows the Krichinsky family through several generations, starting in 1914 with the arrival of Russian Jewish immigrant Sam Krichinsky to America, and ending with the great-grandchild of one of the Krichinsky brothers. The story mainly revolves around four members of the Krichinsky family: Sam Krichinsky, Jules Kaye, Izzy Kirk, and Michael Kaye (played by 9-year-old Elijah Wood!).
As young men, Sam Krichinsky and his three brothers lived on a street named Avalon in Baltimore, Maryland. They were wallpaper hangers, and Sam eventually came to lead the business and family meetings. Jules Kaye and Izzy Kirk are cousins who decided to change their last name of Krichinsky to names that are easier to say (despite Sam’s wishes). Jules and Izzy partner up and attempt to start America’s first discount warehouse chain. The story spends a lot of time on them and their road to success.
The other frequent character is Michael Kaye, Jules’ son. Michael is a boy who likes having fun and helping his father out at the store. Michael also loves listening to his grandfather Sam’s stories; hearing what his grandfather did as a young man fascinated Michael. Michael is probably my favorite character, because he is just a young boy wanting to have fun and getting into all sorts of mischief along with his cousins.
Although this movie is a tale of one family’s struggle to make ends meet during the early 1900s in America, it’s a timeless story that parallels the trials and tribulations of many families. Avalon shows everything that happens to the Krichinsky family over the years, both good and bad, just like real life with its ups and downs.
The first family gathering scene in the movie depicts the quintessential Thanksgiving dinner. After that, the Thanksgiving holiday plays a crucial role throughout the film, as does the Fourth of July. But it shows how each new generation becomes a little more indifferent toward old family traditions. (The screenshot on top is a scene from one of the Krichinskys’ Thanksgiving dinners.)
Directed by Barry Levinson, Avalon is actually a semi-autobiographical film that draws from his own childhood memories as it explores the themes of Jewish assimilation into American life. Levinson was born in Baltimore, the son of Violet Krichinsky and Irvin Levinson, who worked in the furniture and appliance business. His family was of Russian Jewish descent. Levinson’s script won the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay.
Levinson’s heartfelt masterpiece perfectly captures the Jewish experience in America – and the American experience in general – through poignant storytelling and beautiful cinematography. The music, sets, and costume design all make the early 20th century come alive. I can honestly say that Avalon is one of the movies that I can watch over and over and not get tired of it; it has enough action, drama, and heartfelt family life to keep me interested and on the edge of my seat every time.