For better or worse: The life and love of Phyllis and Harold

"Phyllis and Harold," a documentary about the director's parents, reveals the secrets and hidden emotions in their marriage. Photo courtesy of Rainbow Releasing.

The memories and special moments captured on film filled the sparsely occupied screening room in Beverly Hills as the audience gathered to see “Phyllis and Harold.”

The opening animation and those sprinkled throughout the 84 minutes of this heart-warming story were precious. This engaging documentary of the filmmaker’s parents, Phyllis and Harold, offers an unobstructed view into a family’s life as seen through the eyes of a daughter.

Writer and director, Cindy Kleine depicts the untold story of the lives of her parents who revealed emotions, secrets and what-if moments during their 55-year long marriage. What if we could live our lives again – a do over. Would we make the same choices? These were the questions Kleine’s mother pondered for years.

The film highlights Kleine’s real-life videotaped interviews with her mother, Phyllis, and father, Harold. The interviews were so candid that it almost felt like they were speaking directly to the audience. The dialog was genuine and honest and flows like in one conversation where Phyllis revealed that she had a lover during her courtship with Harold, and even after their marriage. The recollections of her lover and the times they spent together were recited like poetry while the film captured the joy in her eyes.

There was no joy, however, in her marriage with Harold. It was filled with disappointment, but the lure of the lifestyle Harold provided kept her from pursuing her lover. Through the slides Harold took and stored meticulously over the years, the story of their marriage told of world travels and fine living, masked by unhappiness and loneliness.

In separate interviews with her parents, it is apparent that they lived parallel lives. Neither parent felt the same about each other and viewed their marriage very differently. Phyllis recalled the times when Harold drank excessively and fondled other women, while Harold proclaimed they had a good marriage.

The documentary revealed love letters Phyllis and Harold wrote to each other over the years. It is touching and sometimes humorous when they read their letters to each other, but disheartening when they become flippant — questioning their senses at the time the letters were written.

The combination of the individual interviews and Kleine’s narration was uniquely cunning. The use of the animated clips conveyed a storybook-like perspective. The decision to use the real Phyllis and Harold was sound. If their story was was interpreted through actors as a romantic movie, the honesty and candidness of the film would have been lost through their interpretations. This film takes the audience on a journey through life, a road sometimes filled with hard times and difficult choices.

Phyllis and Harold opens on April 9th in Beverly Hills at Laemmle’s Music Hall 3 and in West Hills at Laemmle’s Fallbrook 7.