Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Paddington Adoption Movie Review (Paddington Reminds Me of a Lot of Adoption Movies)

When a young bear’s aunt decides that she is too old to care for him, she tells him of older days, when kids would wait at train stations to find new families, and suggests that he could do the same thing today. She places a note around his neck saying “Please look after this bear,” and then sends him on a boat journey from Peru to London. The bear arrives at Paddington Station in London and begins asking passersby to be his family; he is ignored. Alone and dejected, the bear is noticed by the Brown family who give him the name Paddington, and offer him at least one night of lodging in their home.





They then try to help Paddington find a family, and the best idea they have is to find a local explorer who had long ago visited Paddington’s family of talking bears in Peru. Their search is complicated, however, when a local taxidermist decides that she wants to get her own hands on Paddington.

How Does This Connect to Adoption?
Very early in the film, Paddington’s aunt tells of a time when “children were left at railway stations with tags around their neck,” and picked up by parents who “cared for them as their own.” She tells Paddington that Londoners “will not have forgotten how to care.”

Some kids may resonate powerfully with Paddington’s feelings of hopelessness as he tries unsuccessfully to find a family. As he introduces himself to the Brown family, Paddington says, “How do you do? I’m just looking for a home.” Mrs. Brown asks where his parents are, and Paddington explains that they died years ago, and that all he has left is a retired aunt. Mrs. Brown wants to help, and does so over the objections of her husband, who says that Paddington’s plight “is not our responsibility.”

Paddington’s bear-language name is a series of ursine growls that is hard for English speakers to pronounce, so they give him an English name – although they do ask his permission first.

The family explains to Paddington, “When a young person comes to this country in a boat, you don’t go with the first family you’re with. You find a guardian – an adult who looks after you.” Paddington lights up, saying “Like you!” To which they reply, “Yes, but not us. It’s usually someone you know” and suggests that if there isn’t anyone you know, you go to an orphanage.

Paddington tries to find a former family friend to live with, but when he goes to find the records that would lead him to this person, he finds that the records are withheld from him. Many adult adoptees will resonate painfully with this scene.

People adopted internationally might resonate with Paddington’s struggle to fit into his new culture. Although he ultimately feels comfortable, along the way he acknowledges, “It’s not easy being in a new place.”

Many foster families believe that their foster kids lie. The Brown family believes this about Paddington when his stories seem unbelievable, but later we learn that his stories are true, but filtered through his point of view.

Strong Points
The Brown family comes to love Paddington. One character expresses, “It doesn’t matter that he’s from the other side of the world. We love him, so he’s family, and that means we stick together.”

Paddington optimistically realizes, “In London, everyone is different, but that means anyone can fit in. I don’t look like anyone else, but that’s OK because I’m a bear – a bear named Paddington.” This could be an encouraging message for people who were adopted across national boundaries.

It’s easy to see this film as a picture of international adoption, but I also see glimpses of the best parts of foster care adoption. *Spoiler Alert* Mrs. Brown ultimately does become an adoptive mom to Paddington, but along the way is trying to help him reunify with people who know and love him. *End Spoiler* Mrs. Brown tells him, “I’m not standing by while there’s a chance of finding you a proper home.”

Paddington expresses “A home is more than a roof over your head.”

Challenges
When the family refers to an orphanage, an image flashes on the screen of a ghastly looking place. This probably does match the feelings that many have towards orphanages, but might scare some
kids.

Weak Points

The Browns mistakenly believe that Paddington is a liar. He overhears a conversation where they say, “He won’t tell us the truth. How can he live with us if we can’t even trust him. Maybe this isn’t the place for him.” Hearing this breaks Paddington’s heart. He gathers his belongings and runs away, leaving a goodbye note. After he runs away, he walks through the cold, rainy London streets knocking on any doors that might belong to the explorer that once knew his family; Paddington is very persistent, but his persistence isn’t rewarded.

As one of Adoption at the Movies' readers on Facebook commented, when Paddington breaks the Brown family's rules, their first inclination is for him to leave the home.

Paddington's life is threatened - and he is nearly killed - by a crazed museum employee.

Recommendations
This is a charming film that could be helpful for families who have adopted internationally or through foster care. It’s optimistic about successfully forming a family, while honest in depicting the difficulty in doing so, and the feelings of loneliness and “not fitting in” that might be common in situations where a young person is far from their family and place of origin.

Paddington reminded me of several other recent movies. You can click the titles to link to my reviews of each, if you like! As in Mr. Peabody and Sherman, it’s the story of a cross-species adoption. Like Despicable Me, orphanages are seen as scary places. Like Anne of Green Gables with the Cuthberts, Paddington’s relationship with the Browns starts as an almost-accidental one-night visit. Like in the documentary Closure, the records that would be most helpful to Paddington are sealed and unavailable to him, but he still finds a way to find the information he needs.  Like in the Martian Child, Paddington fears rejection, and tries to avoid it by preemptively running away. Like in Lilo and Stitch, a character says, basically, that family means “we stick together.”

There are some frightening sequences (The taxidermist does try to tranquilize, stuff, and preserve Paddington), and some of Paddington’s emotional pain might resonate strongly with some viewers who have waited a long time for a family to call their own or who have experienced rejection from foster families or other trusted adults. One villain suggests that Paddington can’t be family with the Browns because they are different species; but the family itself has become a positive, safe, and loving place for Paddington. Parents can talk through this points with their children. Overall, the film seems to be optimistic, honest, and fun. I’d suggest it as a good choice for most kids ages 8 and up, with parents present to answer questions.

Questions for After the Film

What makes it hard to be in a new place?

What eventually helped Paddington feel at home?

Mr. Brown said that family means sticking together. What do you think family means?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

St. Vincent Adoption Movie Review

Maggie got more than she bargained for when she moved next door to Vincent. Maggie, the divorced mother of 12-year-old Oliver, initially experiences Vincent as a crass, rude crank. When she finds herself stuck in a difficult situation, needing to remain at work while Oliver is locked out of the house, she begs Vincent to watch Oliver for her. Vincent needs money, so he agrees begrudgingly. Vincent isn’t much of a babysitter. He teaches Oliver to gamble at the race tracks, and introduces him to Daka, a woman who he had paid as a prostitute but who has decided to become his housekeeper instead.




Oliver is a very polite young man, but he is picked on at school. Vincent sees Oliver getting bullied, and threatens his bullies. Later, Vincent teaches Oliver to fight, which ultimately results in Oliver breaking his bully’s nose. In doing so, Oliver earns the respect and friendship of his bully – and both realize that they share the experience of having absent fathers.

Vincent continues taking OIiver to the race tracks, but we learn that Vincent owes money from gambling losses, and that his creditors are dangerous. As they are about to attack him, Vincent suffers a heart attack. While hospitalized, he realizes that Daka, Oliver and Maggie have all come to care for him. He still pushes them away, and eventually ostracizes almost everyone. It’d be easy for Maggie and Oliver to try to walk away from that relationship. However, Oliver has a school assignment to research a living saint, and the school has defined a saint as “a person we celebrate for their commitment to others.” Because of Vincent’s positive impact in his life, Oliver decides to learn about Vincent. What he learns challenges others’ (and our) preconceptions of Vincent.

Around the same time, Maggie’s life becomes more stressful when her ex-husband files for custody of Oliver.


The Adoption Connection

Oliver was adopted. Maggie explains that, before she and her husband divorced, she learned that she was unable to have kids. Hating her ex-husband, she explains, “My fallopian tubes were twisted. I think they were recoiling from his sperm.”

Oliver’s father is largely absent from his life, because of his parents’ divorce. Oliver’s mother is largely absent from his life because of her inflexible job. This leaves Oliver in the care of Vincent, an unrelated adult who is primarily motivated by financial gain. Vincent does come to care about Oliver, but for much of the film he is largely disinterested in Oliver. In a way, this mirrors negative stereotypes that some have about foster care. Even in the seasons when Vincent is the most disinterested in Oliver, though, he still shows at least some nurturing (if misguided) care towards Oliver.


Strong Points

Oliver is a polite, insightful, sensitive kid.

Largely due to Oliver’s sensitivity, we learn that Vincent is not only a crank, but also a devoted husband to a dying wife who has lost her knowledge of him to Alzheimer ’s disease and a life-saving war hero. Oliver says, “If you dig deeper, you see beyond his flaws.”

When Vincent’s wife dies, Oliver tells him, “I’m sorry for your loss.” I like the brief conversation that follows. Vincent asks, “Why say that?” Oliver explains that it’s something to say when you’re “not sure what else to say.” And Vincent says something surprisingly wise, “What about, ‘What was she like?’ or ‘Do you miss her?’ or ‘What are you going to do now?’”


Challenges

Oliver’s parents have divorced because of his father’s infidelity. Maggie talks about this so often and so broadly that Oliver seems to know all the details, which is probably unhelpful for a twelve-year-old. Oliver tells her, “I know he cheated on you. You’ll tell anyone. It’s also your Facebook status.”
It is sad to see Vincent throw away the mementos of his wife. He’s depressed, and this could be a depressing scene for some.


Weak Points

OK… for all the good points that we eventually do learn, Vincent is a pretty bad babysitter, and Maggie probably shouldn’t leave Oliver with him. Early on in their relationship, Vincent tells Oliver the house rules, “Go where I go, do what I say, do your homework, and don’t annoy me.” Vincent eventually steals money from Oliver’s bank account, which as far as we know is never discovered or recovered. In this film, it’s the kid who’s ultimately wise enough to see through the faults of a caregiver. Kids who have been abused or neglected may have felt themselves to be in a similar position, trying to see someone who is unkind to them in a positive light. But really, the burden of responsibility should be on adults. First parents, foster parents, and adoptive parents should be safe adults for kids.

The film shares about St. William of Rochester, the patron saint of adopted children. It also explains that St. William was killed by the boy he adopted. While the story is traditional (a quick search of Wikipedia shows that William is an actual saint who was indeed killed by his adoptive son), it’s not a particularly helpful symbol of adoption, and it plays on some largely irrational fears that some people have about adoption.


Recommendations

St. Vincent is an interesting, thought-provoking, and well-acted movie. Some of the content makes it a bad choice for most kids, but I think it is worth seeing for parents and older teens. It highlights the truth that people are often deeper than they seem. One of my favorite thoughts in any book I’ve read comes from Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” and “Speaker for the Dead” series – that if you fully know and understand a person, you will be bound to love them. St. Vincent captures that thought pretty clearly.


Questions for Discussion

Imagine you had been given Oliver’s assignment – to research someone that you celebrate for their commitment to others. Who would you pick?
   
Family assignment: It might be interesting for your kid to interview and get to know someone in your family, church, or community who is worth celebrating. To help sweeten the deal for your teen, you can omit the “paper writing and presentation” part of Oliver’s assignment.

Who do you know who is deeper than they seem to be at first glance? Are our preconceptions of people more likely to be overly gracious or overly judgmental?


What are some other ways Vincent might have been able to process his sadness at the loss of his wife?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Exodus: Gods and Kings Adoption Movie Review

Moses and Ramses live in the house of Pharaoh, and they are raised as cousins, but are as close as brothers. Pharaoh has confided in Moses that he trusts him more than he trusts Ramses, but that because Ramses is his son, Ramses rather than Moses will succeed him as Pharaoh. Unbeknownst to everyone, Moses is a Hebrew. About 20 years ago, Pharaoh had decreed that all Hebrew infant males should be killed. Moses’ family saved him by hiding him in a river, and he was drawn out by a member of Pharaoh’s household.


Now, Moses is in a position of authority in Egypt. He visits a worksite where Hebrews are being used as slaves, and is appalled at their treatment and the luxurious lifestyle of their Egyptian overlord. A Hebrew elder shares with Moses the story of his birth and adoption. Moses angrily refuses it at first, but begins to accept it. The story was overheard by spies who share the truth of Moses’ Hebrew lineage with the Egyptian overlord, Hegep. Hegep tells Ramses, who exiles Moses.
A decade or so later, Moses believes that God has ordered him to return to Egypt to free the Hebrews.
Aided by a series of plagues, Moses is able to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, but then Ramses gives chase.

The film sticks close enough to the Biblical narrative to be predictable to anyone familiar with the story.


The Adoption Connection

Moses was more or less adopted into Pharaoh’s family. Or put another way, Moses was adopted into the family that was actively enslaving, abusing and oppressing his entire birth culture, and, in fact, his adoptive family would have wanted him dead had they understood who he was when they found him.
Years later, Moses returns to free his birth family and their entire community, but to do so, he must fight, terrorize, run from, and risk the death of one who had been like a brother to him.

Moses’ true birth history has been hidden from him. He learns it as a young adult from a stranger, who tells him that his father is not who he had been told, but instead, “You were born a slave. The woman you call your mother has no children. You know something is wrong. You’ve always felt it.”
When Moses does discover his history, he meets his birth mother. She gives him the remains of his umbilical cord, and he keeps it wrapped around his thumb from then on. She calls Moses by his birth name. He learns that a woman he has known his whole life is actually his birth sister. He later meets his birth brother.

Moses’ interest in his birth family develops a few years after he becomes a parent. This might mirror a similar development in the lives of some adult adoptees.


Strong Points

From one point of view, Moses eventually identifies with and embraces his birth family.


Challenges

Moses’ birth sister and mother tell Moses that they would lie and die to protect him, saying, “That’s how much we love you.”

Moses leaves his son and wife behind, for what seems like a very long time, in order to work on behalf of his people.

The plagues which lead to the Hebrews’ freedom are hard to watch. Some viewers who have lost children to death or adoption might be particularly stricken by the grief shown by the Egyptians when the final plague results in the instantaneous, simultaneous death of every Egyptian firstborn. We see one character cradling the limp (and later mummified) body of his very young son.


Weak Points

To embrace his birth family, Moses must ultimately reject his adoptive family. It makes sense within the context of the story, but it’s not a helpful or healthy equation for adoptees in today’s world.

Although there are lots of problems with Moses’ adoption, Nun’s statement to Moses, “The woman you call your mother has no children,” could be taken to unintentionally imply that adoptive parents aren’t parents. Moses initially responds in disbelief, saying, “That’s not even a good story.”

When Ramses discovers that Moses is a Hebrew, adopted into the family, he has him locked in jail. To find this out, he had threatened to cut off the arm of Moses’ birth sister.

Ramses is jealous of Moses because of a prophecy that suggested that Moses would take Ramses’ place of leadership. He eventually places a bounty on Moses’ head, saying “I want him dead, and his family as well.” He even publicly hangs people for refusing to turn over Moses.


Recommendations

Exodus: Gods and Kings is an epic movie retelling an epic story. A half-million people leaving, on foot, together, while fleeing from a pursuing army. The action scenes are decent; they feel similar to Lord of the Rings, but not quite as well done.

I don’t think this film will appeal to kids or to teens. From an adoption perspective, I appreciate the value of Moses reconnecting with his birth family, but I find the movie generally unhelpful; too often, adoptees in movies are required to choose one family over the other (Meet the Robinsons, Superman: The Movie are two examples, click for more). That’s already pretty unfortunate. It’s even worse when your two families want the other side dead.

Exodus: Gods and Kings probably isn't a good choice for most families dealing with adoption issues.


Questions for Discussion

How did the secrecy surrounding his history help Moses? How did it hurt him?

How do those explanations relate to people’s reasons today for secrecy or openness in adoption?

The film leaves it open to interpretation, whether Moses was hearing God or hallucinating. What do you think?


Is it possible for someone to embrace both their birth family and their adoptive family?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Top 10 Most-Viewed Adoption at the Movies Posts of the Year

Happy New Year!

2014 was the second full year of Adoption at the Movies (we started doing this in October 2012), and also my first full year as a movie reviewer in Los Angeles - this is definitely an opportune place to live for someone writing about movies. Outside of Adoption at the Movies, I've greatly enjoyed serving as a clinical supervisor to about a half-dozen excellent, committed folks. I've also continued to learn from my online friendships with several voices in the online adoption community, especially including Lori Holden, Amanda Woolston, Laura Dennis, and Bryan and Angela Tucker. I've also been excited to start writing for a wider readership through Foster Focus, The New Social Worker, Adoption Today, Fostering Families Today, Focus on Adoption, and Adoptive Families magazines.

Thank you for reading Adoption at the Movies.

To finish up 2014, let's revisit the Top Ten Most-Viewed Posts of the past year! Feel free to click the titles of any reviews you want to revisit!

10. Juno - This story of a pregnant teenager's decision of adoption is one of the most unique adoption films in recent years. Quick-paced and humorous, it is well-enjoyed by many teens and adults.

9. ReMoved - A newly-certified foster family made a short film about a kids' experiences in foster care, and it went viral. Adoption at the Movies interviewed the film's writer about its creation (click here to read it). A sequel is due out next year!

8. A Therapist Weighs In on How To Train Your Dragon 2 - Adoption therapist Brooke Randolph drops by Adoption at the Movies to comment on how the film connects to issues of identity. Definitely worth reading!

7. X-Men: Days of Future Past - This, the lone super-hero film in the top ten, shows a favorite character travelling to the past.

6. Earth to Echo - Four kids set off together to uncover a mystery. This film features a very positive portrayal of a foster kid. Alex is loyal, brave, forgiving, and dependable. He is not a hero or a victim, and he isn't overly perfect. He's just a good kid and a good friend who also happens to be in foster care, like ... well, like a lot of kids who are in foster care.

5. How to Train Your Dragon 2 - A young viking is reunified with his mother after nearly a life of absence. The film conveys the belief that identity is drawn from your roots, but shaped by your choices.

 

4. Divergent - This tween, teen, and young-adult film follows teenager Tris as she leaves her family of origin to join a new family of sorts. The film challenges the notion that joining one family means completely separating from the first one.

3. Mr. Peabody and Sherman - Sherman is the seven-year-old human son of the very intelligent dog, Mr. Peabody. The plot of this film is largely driven by the evil social worker, Ms. Grunion's, desire to take Sherman away from his adoptive dad.

2. The 2014 Adoption at the Movies Awards - This first annual awards column reviewed around a dozen adoption-related movies from the past year, and named the best independent adoption film and the best mainstream adoption film of the year. Look for the 2015 Adoption at the Movies Awards to come out right around Academy Awards season!

1. Annie - In less than a week, this review became the most-read article EVER on Adoption at the Movies. This re-made story of a foster child in New York City was the most heavily-anticipated adoption movie of the year.


Thanks for reading!   See you next year!
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