Buy one, get one free! Yes, you can have a political documentary AND a comedy. Ok, maybe it’s not screamingly funny but wryly amusing, observational humour can definitely be used as a description.
What we have in Sex, Drugs & Bicycles is an American, Jonathan Block — Writer/Director/Narrator — who fondly remembers a trip to The Netherlands in his youth. As is often the case, he looked back on that experience as a younger man and wondered if it was the youthful season of mists and mellow fruitfulness that coloured his opinions or whether The Netherlands were actually as pleasant, peaceful, and placid as he remembered.
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So what does he do? He does the sometimes worrying thing of going back and having another look. I say worrying because I know from bitter experience…you should never try to recapture an experience from the days when you were old enough to know better, but young enough to get away with it. You either find things are the same but you can’t enjoy them in the same way — due to advanced years and arthritic knees or, possibly worse, you find that the thing you thought was so wonderful has either been erased, or you were totally mistaken…and it was, really, rather crap.
So What Did He Find?
It turns out that the idyll that he remembers is very much still alive and kicking. While in his younger years he may have been more interested in the infamous red light districts and “specialist” cafes, going back in later life it is other aspects of Dutch society that appeal to him now.
The main point he makes is about the differences in things concerning the health and well being of the populace. The biggest concern is one that keeps popping up amongst Americans I know is that, given the USA is supposed to be one of the greatest countries in the world, how is their healthcare system so atrocious? Admittedly, there are world class medical professionals and facilities in the USA, but they are only freely available to the richest and, despite the propaganda against any kind of social health system from the insurance company, still costs more than most developed countries — while still managing to bankrupt hundreds of thousands of the citizenry every year.
As well as the superior health care system, The Netherlands is keen to ensure that people are, well, happy. The way the kids are brought up means they are the happiest in the world. The work ethic means that being an adult doesn’t mean you have to start being miserable. Working hours ensure families can have their meals together, and holidays are guaranteed and funded by law.
In short, everyone works a maximum of eleven months per year but gets paid for thirteen — to ensure proper holidays can be had. Dotted throughout are figures showing where The Netherlands come in various world league tables, and how they compare with the USA. Including those would run the risk of making this look more like a spreadsheet than it needs to be.
But Is It Accurate?
So has Mr Block produced an accurate picture of The Netherlands or has he, perhaps, spent too long in the herbal coffee shops?
Not being a Dutch citizen, I don’t have any experience of living there but I do have the next best thing… my brother.
Showing wisdom beyond his years, he moved across the Channel and gained Dutch citizenship before the shit storm that is Brexit took place; he’s been a resident there for over twenty years now.
His opinion was that this documentary is pretty much all correct, apart from the bit at the start saying The Netherlands, aka Holland. That’s like saying the UK, aka England. My sister-in-law, Marijke, also watched it and, as a native born Netherlander, thought it very well balanced, and agreed with just about everything.
There was a query about the legendary Dutch tolerance; he said, “Officially the country is very tolerant, and if you are coming from Syria, then it must seem unbelievably tolerant, but just you try and criticise something here (like Zwarte Piet).”
All in all, informative, entertaining, and amusing. A documentary worth catching; well recommended.
Movie Grade: A
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Former teacher, lecturer, homelessness administrator, pharmacy dispenser now happily retired, happily married, and a very happy granddad. I live next to the Mersey but on the side Daniel Craig and Taron Egerton come from rather than the side the Beatles came from!
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Jill Florio Administrator
I very much enjoyed this documentary. Mainly out of envy – i want to live in a place so happy and healthy and ecologically aware.
I read a lot about Happiness Indexes and the places in the world that people are happiest. The travel book Bliss comes to mind, and The Happiness Project. I have another good one somewhere. It’s fascinating. Neither the USA nor the UK comes up high on any of the lists. It’s usually Nordic countries in the top spots.
I don’t know what the USA’s excuse is but I think we Brits are never as happy as when we’ve got something to moan about!