Tuesday, June 12, 2018

I Can Only Imagine Adoption Movie Review


When Bart’s mother leaves, he is left to be raised by his emotionally and physically abusive father. Bart’s father consistently tells him not to waste time dreaming or following his interests, but does encourage him to play football. An injury on the field leads Bart to a music class, and although a teacher discovers that Bart is gifted, his father is unsupportive. Bart ultimately leaves home to pursue a career in music, but he is quickly disheartened, and continues to have unresolved feelings towards his father. Fortunately, Bart is able to make peace with his father before his father dies, and his reflections on his father’s conversion to Christianity and subsequent death and anticipated arrival in Heaven lead Bart to pen the song, “I Can Only Imagine,” which brings inspiration to many and launches Bart’s musical career.

** SPOILERS AHEAD THE REST OF THE WAY **



 The Adoption Connection

Some viewers may relate to Bart’s experiences; his father was abusive, and his mother left. They may also relate to Bart’s feelings towards his father – anger and pain at what has happened, but an eventual openness to forgiveness and reconciliation.

The film presents a connection between the discouragement Bart received from his father and Bart’s reaction to negative but constructive feedback from music executives. The scene highlights for me the fact that no behaviors or reactions exist in a vacuum, and most behaviors and reactions make sense within a certain context. Part of effectively parenting kids from hard places might be working to understand the internal contexts which inform their behaviors and reactions.


Strong Points

Bart ultimately forgives his father and finds healing. The healing that Bart finds also helps others to find hope and healing in the face of their own losses.  


Challenges

Some viewers could be triggered by Bart’s dad; when Bart is young, his father burns a project that Bart had worked on. When Bart his older, his father physically abuses him, and he and Bart nearly come to blows.

Bart tearfully wonders what he did to make his mother leave him. We see him chasing after the van that is taking away the last of her belongings.


Recommendations

I Can Only Imagine could appeal to some older teenagers, but seems most likely to appeal to adults. Some viewers could be triggered by the abuse and abandonment that Bart experiences, but the film provides a good opportunity to reflect on the way that childhood experiences can impact a person’s behaviors and reactions into adulthood. For folks considering becoming foster parents, this film could be an invitation to begin thinking about the experiences that your kids may have had and how their undesirable and hard-to-understand behaviors might reflect their experiences rather than their character.
 

Questions for Discussion

Why did Bart react so negatively to the music executives’ negative feedback?

How was Bart able to forgive his dad?

What gifts do you have that you’d like to pursue?




Tuesday, June 5, 2018

I Feel Pretty Adoption Movie Review


Renee Bennett feels invisible and unconfident because of her body. In an attempt to change her life by changing her physique, Renee joins a cycling class, but suffers a serious fall which renders her unconscious. When she wakes up, Renee sees herself differently. She is amazed at her newly-realized good looks, and with her new confidence, her career soars but her friendships suffer. Can she find a balance between confidence and shallowness?  

** SPOILERS AHEAD THE REST OF THE WAY **



The Adoption Connection
There is no adoption element to the story.

Strong Points
Renee eventually realizes that her physique never changed – only her confidence did. She affirms the importance of women accepting themselves as they are.
We learn that even people in positions of power have insecurities.

Challenges
A sex scene and the general flavor of the film aims at an audience of adults and older teens. 

Recommendations
For adults and older teens, I Feel Pretty has a generally positive message accompanied by some off-color but laugh-out-loud moments. Some reviewers have felt that the movie is hypocritical – having a positive message but also making fat jokes – but it didn’t strike me that way. Good for adults, and possibly some older teens, but parents should pre-screen it to decide.

Questions for Discussion

What did Renee believe made the difference in how she felt and in her career trajectory? What actually made the difference?

Do you think it’s more important to look good or to feel good?  


Other Ideas



Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story - Adoption Movie Review


With the galaxy in chaos, orphaned children are forced to steal to survive. Two young lovers escape gang control, but they are separated before they can make it offworld. Han escapes, and promises that he will come back to rescue Qi’ra.

** I will try to avoid spoilers, but do be aware that there may be SPOILERS AHEAD THE REST OF THE WAY **





The Adoption Connection

Han’s last name, “Solo” is arbitrarily assigned by a government official who learns that Han “has no people.”

Han’s friend Chewbacca reveals that he is trying to find his own tribe or family (Han couldn’t differentiate between the two terms in Chewbacca’s language).


Strong Points

From a fan perspective, this is a fun movie, and it answers questions that I hadn’t thought to ask. It is worth seeing.


Challenges
Parents and children are separated.

The realistic nature of some war scenes could surprise some younger viewers.

Some soldiers try to feed Han to a beast.

One character’s life philosophy is to “assume everyone will be tray you and you’ll never be disappointed.”


Recommendations

Solo: A Star Wars Story has some violence that feels more realistic than sci-fi, and there are some on-screen (or just-off-screen) deaths of some sympathetic characters; both of these could make the movie a rough experience for the youngest viewers. The film is rated PG-13 and that feels like a pretty good guideline; I’d recommend it for most kids ages 12 and up.


Questions for Discussion

How do you feel about how Han was given his last name? Should he have been able to choose one?

Who do you think Han can trust? What makes you think that?

Would you like to have a friend like Chewbacca?

Other Ideas

Friday, May 25, 2018

Show Dogs Adoption Movie Review


When police dog Max botches a sting operation, smugglers escape with a baby panda. Max promises that he will successfully retrieve the panda, who is being taken to Las Vegas. Max teams up with a human agent and, in order to get close to the panda, Max has to enter a dog show. He believes that if he wins the show, he will be targeted as the next kidnapping victim, which will bring him into proximity to the panda; however, Max’s love interest wins and is also kidnapped; now he has two victims to rescue.

** SPOILERS AHEAD THE REST OF THE WAY **



The Adoption Connection

There are some themes that could be relevant – and troubling – for adoptive families. Kidnapping plays a central theme in the film – a baby panda is separated from its mother. This could be a triggering theme for some viewers. For kids who have been sexually abused, a particular scene could be very problematic; I’ll cover that more in the “Challenges” section of this review.

The entire field of Rottweilers, except Max, learn that they are all related when Max guides them to discovering that they were all adopted from the same town in Kentucky. While the newfound siblings celebrate, another dog joins the scene declaring that she had puppies adopted from that town. The dogs realize that this is their mother, and they have a joyous reunion, and are promptly disqualified from the show because of their unruly celebration. It feels like the adoption connection here is presented in a rather thoughtless way which could be bracing and hurtful for some viewers.


Strong Points

Max and his human handler Frank overcome a rough start and are able to work together to save kidnapping victims. The film does affirm that we are better off when we trust people who see the world differently than we do.  


Challenges

Felipe, a former dog show champion, has been abandoned. Max finds him in a cage in the pound. When Felipe re-encounters his hold owner, he attacks him. He complains that his owner “stole my dreams, ruined my life, and abandoned me.” The owner’s new dog coldly says that Felipe “needs to be put to sleep.”

Adoption is treated in an offhanded way in a scene discussed in the “Adoption Connection” section.
Show Dogs has come into the news for a disturbing scene. Max had to get a bikini wax in order to give the judges “a good look” at his genitals, and part of being a show dog is having genitals examined by a judge. Max is not comfortable with this. Frank and Felipe to prepare Max for the contest by coaching and practicing with him. Max snaps at Frank’s touch, but Felipe encourages Max to go to his happy place and to “focus on not reacting”. In the actual contest, Max does go into his imagination while the judge is touching his genitals – he dreams of dancing with Frank, and it would not be impossible to interpret the scene as being romanticized. Max is congratulated after the judge finishes touching him. I feel like the scene is profoundly troubling and unwise. It would likely be particularly triggering and confusing for kids who have experienced sexual abuse and is likely a poor choice for any child, because regardless of the filmmakers’ intent, it could have the effect of normalizing grooming behavior.

A creepy character tries to proposition Frank into having Max breed with another dog. Max doesn’t want to, which infuriates the creepy man.


Recommendations

There are so many problems with this one. Earlier this week (I’m writing on 5/25/18), the filmmakers announced that they would be re-cutting the film to remove the concerning scenes, and they’ll be re-releasing it for the weekend of 5/27 with the scenes removed. It may be a safer film to see, but the adoption elements are still insensitive, it’s unlikely that the bikini wax scene will be removed as it didn’t generate the same attention as the more obvious scene, and the underlying theme of kidnapping could also be troubling for some viewers. The film doesn’t seem likely to be entertaining for older kids, and for younger kids it feels like a strong “skip.” I wouldn’t recommend this one. It’s not without some decent moments, but it is sitting at 18% on Rotten Tomatoes right now, which feels about right. There are better movies with less problems. If your kids want to hang out with talking animals, think about subbing in Zootopia this weekend.

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Questions for Discussion
Max hurt his friend’s feelings when she realized that he didn’t think dog shows were important. How could he have told her what he thought without hurting her feelings?
What animal would be your ideal pet?
What would you have told Max if you knew that he didn’t want to be touched by the judge? (Here’s a good chance to affirm to your kids the importance of boundaries… but again, I’d suggest a different film.)




Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Pacific Rim Uprising Adoption Movie Review


The monstrous Kaiju are back, and Jake, the son of war hero Stacker Pentecost, is pressed into service. Using large robots, Jake and his team must defeat the Kaiju before they destroy the world.

** SPOILERS AHEAD THE REST OF THE WAY **


The Adoption Connection



In the first Pacific Rim movie, we learn that Stacker Pentecost adopted Mako. Mako offers her adoptive brother Jake a way out of going to prison. Their relationship isn’t very developed, and Mako does die before the film ends.  


Strong Points

Many characters act bravely. Some characters are able to resolve interpersonal differences.
Jake reflects on Mako, “My dad took her in. She was my sister, my family.”

A character is told, “It doesn’t matter who your parents are, who believed in you and who didn’t. We are a family now. You need to confront your past [in order to bond with others and function in the present.]” It’s quite a stretch to apply this to adoption, but it was, I think, a good line.


Challenges

Mako’s death isn’t really processed. It’s also sad in context; in the first film, Mako was in danger and so Stacker took her in to protect her. Ultimately she died in a similar war – but as a hero, not as a victim.  


Recommendations

Watching Pacific Rim Uprising feels like watching a Transformers movie. Big, mechanized creatures fight on screen for much of the runtime of the film. There are some interesting moments of dialogue, and some good lines which I’ve highlighted in “Strong Points.” The adoption connection is present, but very thin. The film seems likely to appeal to most teens 13 and up, and parents could potentially make some conversation after the film about the concept of sharing one’s mind with another.  
 

Questions for Discussion

Why did Amara need to confront her past? How could confronting her past help her function in the present?

Is there anyone with whose mind you think you’d be compatible enough to “drift”?

What made Jake and Mako a family? How did their family connection show up?


Other Ideas



Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Foster Parents Speak

Foster Parents Speak is a short documentary from PhotoSynthesis Productions which features several real-life foster parents speaking candidly about their experiences serving kids in the system. Although the film does appear dated, the content of the interviews continues to be relevant and valuable to incoming foster parents, without falling into cliché. One foster parent advises that there’s an important shift for foster parents to make away from “that’s mine” to “that’s ours.” One reminds new parents that foster parenting “takes more than love.” One reassures that the good “always outweighed the negative.”

The film covers a range of important topics for incoming foster parents to consider; birth parent relationships, a child’s reunion with their birth family, empathy for the birth parents, monitored visitation, and cooperation with other foster parents and family service professionals are all thoughtfully discussed. One foster parent reflects on her time as a foster parent with gratitude, “I have grandkids and children that I’d never thought I’d have.” Foster parents are encouraged to know that experienced foster parents believe that it is worth it, and they’re promised, “You will get your joy!”

Foster Parents Speak is part of a trio of foster-adoption training videos that will find a home in the training curricula of foster and adoption agencies. The other two films are Gay Parents Speak and Struggle for Identity. Gay Parents Speak features several foster and adoptive parents speaking candidly and optimistically about their experiences. Struggle for Identity features a group of young, transracially-adopted adults sharing honestly about the difficult aspects of being adopted transracially, and has been a part of the trainings I’ve presented to prospective foster and adoptive parents for the past decade. These videos are worth considering as part of a foster family agency’s onboarding training for new foster and adoptive parents.


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