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A Very Serious Person (2006)

A Very Serious Person (2006)Gil, a 13-year-old boy (played by P.J. Verhoest) and his grandmother Mrs. A (Polly Bergen), are traveling to their summerhouse in Manhattan New York, while the housekeeper Betty (Dana Ivey), prepares the house for their arrival.

Mrs. A requires full-time medical care and has had a resident nurse recently dismissed due to incompetence and who now has been replaced by a Danish male nurse Jan (played by Charles Busch, who is also the writer and director of the film).

Betty disapproves of Jan, who is clearly very pedantic, but Mrs. A certainly approves of being handled by him: “It’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to me in years”.

P. J. Verhoest as Gil
P. J. Verhoest as Gil

Gil, who loves old movies like Gone with the Wind and listening to records, sees the time he spends with Jan as an opportunity to talk about his interests and passions. Jan admits he is gay while Gil thinks he may also be, yet is unsure about liking boys.

As Mrs. A’s health deteriorates, the frivolity of summertime changes into concern and Gil is faced with the reality that his grandmother might die. Jan teaches Gil about compassion for his grandmother and presents Gil with a perspective on maturity.

How does one prepare a 13-year-old boy without parents for the death of his grandmother?

Charles Busch uses this story to deliver a message of sensibility and mindfulness in the face of loss.

Dana Ivey and Polly Bergen
Polly Bergen and Dana Ivey

A Very Serious Person relies heavily on references to old movies and characters and one scene at a swimming pool reminded me a lot of Death in Venice.

Unfortunately, the actors look like they are performing for a live audience rather than for a camera, but I’m sure that was intended. It does take some getting used to and I wouldn’t be surprised if some viewers consider aspects of this movie as silly or cringeworthy.

There is a one love making scene between Jan and a man he meets at the swimming pool, which could be a concern for some, but it is in good taste and comedic at least.

Jan and Gil at the pool
Jan and Gil at the pool

The movie has a clear message and an ending which is not at all what one would expect. I have always been amused by the keywords associated with movies on the IMDb. Here are a few for A Very Serious Person:

Panamas, ponytail, bicycle, dancing-in-water, and friendship.

OK. Well, a search for ‘friendship’ should give at least a hit for most films ever made. The movie is charming, stylized, fun family entertainment, and not too concerned with representing reality.

A Very Serious Person  – Trailer

The camera work reminded me of a famous cinematographer who once said, “These days, all I’m trying to do is not interfere with the actors”. That traditional fade-to-black is used very often and the scenes are short and distinct.

In summary: Through the story of a 13-year-old boy and his love for his dying grandmother, A Very Serious Person tells you something important about sensibility and mindfulness in the face of loss, through the medium of stage on film.

A Very Serious Person (2006)
The movie is charming, stylised, fun family entertainment, and not too concerned with representing reality.
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  1. An unusual film. I doubt I would have ever discovered it – if I haven`t read this review. It’s interesting that by the finale – it is not only Gil who has Come-of-Age (as he proved by his final choice – showing that he has reached a level of maturity in which one takes the right choice, even if not the most fun one), but also Jan – whose personality and inner world were also altered as result of the people and experiences he had as a Nurse to Gil`s grandmother.

    The love making scene mentioned in the review – is present in the film, yet it seemed unnecessary to include it – one does not really learn anything new about Jan`s character and it feels like a complete space/time filler.
    Gil is an interesting personage – appeared spoiled at times – which with him being an orphan ring slightly odd, sometimes annoying and inconsiderate – but as a whole full of energy and positivism. I agree with the reviewer, that while the film is charming its hardly realistic, but then again not all films need to be. All in all : fun to watch , yet not likely to make an impression in one or be remembered for long.


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The movie is charming, stylised, fun family entertainment, and not too concerned with representing reality.

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A Very Serious Person (2006)The movie is charming, stylised, fun family entertainment, and not too concerned with representing reality.