Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ant-Man Adoption Movie Review

In 1989, Dr. Hank Pym took his human-shrinking technology into seclusion, leaving behind a powerful agency that would have weaponized it. In the present day, his former mentee and successor Darren Cross has nearly replicated Pym’s efforts, and intends to weaponize the technology for profit. Pym’s daughter, Hope, works as Cross’ top assistant.

Hank’s relationship with Hope has been strained ever since Hank’s wife, Janice, mysteriously died. Hank went into mourning, and he failed to adequately care for Hope. Although Hope has a lifetime of anger against Hank, she sees the danger in Cross’ plans, and is secretly working with Hank to save the world from such a devastating weapon. Hank and Hope are unwittingly joined by Scott Lang, a Robin-Hoodish ex-con who is trying to regain a relationship with his young daughter. Can this unlikely crew undermine the evil efforts of Cross?

The Adoption Connection

While there is no adoption in this movie, there are several interesting family dynamic threads that could be relevant to adoptive families as well.

There is a sense of loss – Hank lost his wife, and Hope lost her mother. Both are still grieving the loss, twenty years later. Hank hasn’t shared the true story of the loss with Hope, who resents this information being withheld from her. The pain of the loss coupled with the damage caused by Hank’s secrecy has driven Hank and Hope apart.

Scott’s daughter is being cared for by his ex-wife and her fiancĂ©. Scott is an ex-con, and his ex-wife is engaged to a police officer, who finds himself in pursuit of Scott. Many parents (and many children) will be able to relate to a parent and child being separated. People touched by foster care may also recognize the dynamic of a parent who has been separated from their child because of choices they’ve made, who now has to “earn” the right to build relationship with the child. Cassie’s loyalty to her father over her stepfather show up when she asks her stepfather whether he is trying to find her daddy. He says, “Yeah, I just want him to be safe.” Cassie replies, “I hope you don’t catch him.”

Several characters express their strong desire to be loved or affirmed by those whose opinions they value.

Strong Points

The film clearly and powerfully shows that a dad and a stepfather can both deeply love the same child and work cooperatively for her good.

Scott and his ex-wife Maggie work cooperatively to develop a plan that will allow Scott to see their daughter, Cassie. Scott expresses, “I want to provide [and] love her… I want to be part of her life.” 

When Scott is arrested, Cassie asks Maggie, “Is Daddy a bad man? I heard some grown-ups say he’s bad.” Maggie’s answer is skillful, “No. Daddy gets confused sometimes.”

**SPOILER ALERT – When Hank does tell Hope the story of how her mom died, it brings much healing to Hope, who is able to help release Hank from some of his guilt.” END SPOILER ***


Several of the film’s protagonists are a gang of petty criminals. One character even reflects on the oddness of the situation, asking, “Are we the good guys?”

There is some gross sci-fi violence on screen; one character is turned into a small pile of bloody slime.

Weak Points

It might not be helpful to have such a “good vs. bad” portrait of birthfather and step- (or adoptive) father; in this film, the new dad is a police officer who pursues and tries to arrest the birthfather.

A grown man attempts to kill a young girl out of vengeance against the girl’s father.


Ant-Man is an interesting film. Is it a film that shows what it’s like to have a parent who is also a criminal, or a picture of what lengths someone will go to for their children? I think it’s the latter. The violent content and complicated good-vs-evil themes in the film help it to legitimately earn its PG-13 rating. It could be fun for kids ages 11 and up, with their parents.

Suggested Films

The Santa Clause movies also explore the relationship between a child’s father and stepfather.

Questions for Discussion
Why hadn’t Hank shared his whole story with Hope? How might their relationship have been different had he done so?

Why does Scott deserve a second chance with his daughter?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Minions Adoption Movie Review

Bright yellow, tragically clumsy, but wholeheartedly devoted in their pursuit of the strongest master they can find, the minions have found themselves isolated in Antarctica after accidentally killing or alienating all of their leaders. Three brave minions, Kevin, Stuart, and Bob, set out to find a new leader after seeing a television advertisement for a supervillain convention in Florida. There, they manage to enlist themselves into the services of Scarlet Overkill, the world’s first female supervillain. Typical minion mayhem quickly challenges the relationship between Scarlet and her new help, and the minions again find themselves longing for a leader.

The Adoption Connection

The minions are perpetually in search of a person to learn from and follow, and they have bounced around from clan to clan – in that sense, they share some aspects of the experiences of a large sibling set moving through foster care. They’re even separated from each other for a season while Bob, Kevin and Stuart leave in search of a new leader.

Strong Points

Although they align themselves with villains, the minions are persistent and hopeful.


Some cartoon violence and peril onscreen might be scary to some younger viewers.

It seems possible that some young viewers who have been in – or who are currently in – foster care might draw parallels between their own story and the journey of Kevin, Bob and Stuart. This could problematic when the three minions compete to win the affections of Scarlett, then move into her home, only to be threatened with disownment (or worse) if they disappoint her. This conditional acceptance fits with a supervillain, but some young viewers might need to be reassured that their acceptance into your family is unconditional.


Minions is a mostly-harmless, kind-of-fun film that should be fine for most kids ages 7 and up. It offers the opportunity to talk about the desire to belong, and could be a good film so long as parents can help their children differentiate between the conditional, self-centered acceptance offered by 
Scarlett Overkill and the unconditional, loving acceptance offered by a healthy family.

Suggested Films

Despicable Me 2 features the minions as well, and also portrays a healthy, thriving adoptive family.

Questions for Discussion

How are the minions’ bosses like parents? How are they different?

Who is your favorite minion, and why?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Why You Feel So Busy

I want to share something with you. Of the articles I’ve written, this is one of the ones that applies to me pretty personally. This article was initially published by The New Social Worker. Thanks to them for graciously allowing it to be reposted here.

I recently finished a day with everything crossed off my to-do list. That doesn’t happen very often for me. Maybe that was the first time. I’m wondering why it is that I always feel so busy. So busy, that it doesn’t feel quite right to not be busy. That it’s hard to take time to practice self-care, like exercising or relaxing. That it’s a discipline to spend time with friends.
photo: https://www.cmich.edu/ess/studentaffairs/
   A while ago, I thought about this in connection to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. His theory was that we have foundational needs and higher level needs, but that the higher level needs can’t be addressed until the lower level but more foundational needs are really met. I wonder if that might also provide some insight into how I might more healthily balance the multiple roles that I maintain. I’ve thought that it’d be important to address and nourish the roles that are the most foundational to my identity – Human Individual, Christian, Husband, Friend – and that if I nourished those, I’d be in a better spot to meet the needs of my more specialized but less foundational roles. If I exercise, pray, have regular dates with my wife, and hang out with my friends, I’ll probably be in a better spot – physically, mentally, emotionally, and energetically, to serve the clients that I have as a social worker, supervisor, and writer. And I think I’d experience less of a sense of being busy and overwhelmed.
Photo: http://lrd.buffalohair-jage.com/

     It’s tempting to say that part of the reason I feel so busy is that social work is never done. That’s true; we’re doing important work that directly impacts folks’ lives. I’m not sure whether my writing impacts peoples’ lives, but I hope it does, and I want my writing to be current, fresh, and relevant. But I wonder if those aren’t just incidents of an underlying mindset that predisposes me to feeling overly busy. I hear something similar from other social workers, too – we often feel busy. Uncomfortably busy. Too busy. It might be something cultural, too. Maybe everyone feels busy.
     But this article’s not about everyone. It’s about social workers – or, honestly, mostly about me. Why am I so busy? What is it about me that, when I’ve run out of things on my list for a day, makes me look ahead in my calendar to see what I can get a head start on? What makes me compile and keep lists of good ideas that turn into guilty reminders of good intentions that I haven’t yet carried out? Why is my Netflix queue so long?
     More importantly, what’s the solution? How do I escape this atmosphere where “busy” is the defining word for the feeling of most days? I don’t think the answer is “have fewer good intentions.” I also don’t think the answer is “Get over it. Life is busy until you retire.” There’s got to be a middle ground.
     I think the keys might be discipline and prioritization. Prioritization to help me honestly assess the big-picture importance of all the ideas that I have, and all the demands for time that I perceive. And discipline, to help me follow the wisdom that prioritization provides – even when doing so means that I might be delaying something fun or disappointing someone’s expectations.
photo: http://www.fromquarkstoquasars.com
     I became a social worker because I want to be helpful to people, so in a real way, “social worker” me is a natural outgrowth of “real” me. I own both roles, because they are both me. The tendency of “social worker” me to be always busy is connected to the behaviors and thoughts of “real” me. It makes sense that the strengths (and the proclivity to being busy) that I have in my personal life are also reflected in my vocation. It’s not about the work so much as it is about the one doing the work.
     So the responsibility lies with me – and not with my employer, or my clients, or my publishers, or “social work” in general, or even “the way the world is” – to develop a sense of un-busyness, through prioritization and discipline.

     Why am I so busy? I guess it’s because of a mindset that I have, and the choices that I make. Which is really fortunate, because it means it's probably something I can fix.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

When Marnie Was There Adoption Movie Review - A Foster-Care Ghost Story.

When 12-year-old foster child Anna Sasaki collapses at school from an asthma attack, her long-time foster mother sends her away from the big city of Sapporo to Kushiro, a rural area where the foster mother’s family lives. Although she has been sent to Kushiro to recover her physical health, Anna finds answers that have been plaguing her peace of mind, and she also meets Marnie, a friend with a very mysterious past.

The Adoption Connection

This movie is very relevant to foster care and adoption. Anna expressed that she feels like an outsider. She is being cared for by Yuriko, who she alternatively describes as “my mother,” “Yuriko,” “my guardian,” “auntie” and “my foster mother.” Anna has been living with Yuriko and her husband for seven years. Anna has learned that Yuriko receives money from the government for serving as a foster parent – however, Yuriko does not know that Anna knows. Anna is torn apart inside by this knowledge, wondering whether Yuriko could actually love her, since she’s getting paid. At one point, when Anna is sick, she apologizes to Yuriko for “costing you money again.” This baffles Yuriko, but it shows that Anna struggles with knowing whether she is actually loved. Later, Anna expresses her sorrow at the circumstances of her life, expressing that her wish is for “a normal life every day.”
Yuriko talks to a doctor about Anna. Yuriko notes that Anna does not show her emotions. She wonders aloud, “Maybe it’s because we’re not related by blood.”
When in Kushiro, Anna is convinced by her foster aunt and uncle of Yuriko’s love for her, and by the end of the story, Anna appears to accept Yuriko as her mother.

Anna also learns the story of how she came into foster care, and quite a bit about her birth family’s history.

(Major Spoiler Alert – the rest of this section contains major spoilers.)

Anna reluctantly identifies herself as a foster child. She explains, “My real parents died when I was little, my grandma too. I know they didn’t die on purpose, but sometimes I feel I can’t forgive them for leaving me alone.”

Anna sees an abandoned house across a marsh which is strangely familiar to her. While exploring, Anna meets her mysterious friend, Marnie. Marnie and Anna share their stories with each other, and they find comfort in each other’s understanding. Marnie is actually a ghost, but she is also Anna’s birth grandmother, returning in the form she had when she was a girl of Anna’s age. It’s interesting to imagine what it would be like to meet my grandparents as peers of my own age. Anna learns Marnie’s story, and from Marnie, finds out how she herself came to be in foster care. Although it is a story with significant sadness and loss, there are also notes of joy, perseverance and determination. After she knows her story, Anna is much more at peace.

Anna’s words to Marnie might echo the feelings of people separated by adoption, saying at one point, “You left me behind… I won’t forgive you, leaving me behind without a word… Why did you betray me?” and at another point, “I missed you – I kept calling you with my heart… I’ll never forget you,” and ultimately telling her, “Of course I forgive you. I love you, and I won’t forget you.”

Marnie was neglected and abused as a child. Anna and Marnie both envy each other – Anna envies Marnie for growing up with her birth family, and Marnie envies Anna for living in a safe, loving home with kindhearted people.

Strong Points

Anna’s foster mother and her extended foster family truly do show their love and fondness for her throughout the film. Her aunt explains that her foster mother was “ecstatic” when Anna first arrived, and she spent much time teaching her life skills “to make up for the five years she didn’t get with you.” All members of Yuriko’s family embrace Anna as part of their family.

Anna learns her whole story – even going back a couple generations – of how she came into foster care, and the fact that Yuriko does receive payment (or rather, money for Anna’s expenses) for caring for Anna. Having all truth open and accessible is very healing to Anna, and she is able to find wholeness by knowing the truth. I can’t think of a more important message for foster and adoptive families – truth, lovingly and skillfully shared, helps people heal.

Anna is able to express powerful emotions about the circumstances of her life, and the people in her birth family and adoptive family to whom she expresses those feelings always respond with love.

Spoiler Alert ***** The film captures the importance of physical locations to adoptees – it is often quite powerful and meaningful to return to places that were part of one’s story before the adoption or entry into foster care. ***** End spoiler


Although she intended well, when Yuriko sent Anna away “to get well” it might have felt like abandonment to Anna, especially since Anna was wondering whether she was loved or just a source of income. In fact, Anna later explains to another child that Yuriko sent her to Kushiro because “I worried her, so she got rid of me for a while.” The fact that Yuriko sent her there by putting her on a train by herself makes it more likely that Anna might have felt abandoned.

Anna struggles to view herself as Yuriko’s child and struggles to view Yuriko as her parent. This is expressed in her word choice, “I’m not their real child, but they raised me, which I appreciate, but one day I saw, they get paid for it. They get paid because I’m not their real child. Even worse, they hide it from me.” Ultimately, through access to honest information, Anna is able to view herself as having two sets of real parents, integrating her identities and achieving what Lori Holden would call wholeness. (Click here for more from Lori on wholeness in adoptee identity.) and while you're at it... (Click here for Lori's well-received book on how openness in adoption can help children achieve wholeness).

This is, at times, a very sad story. Viewers could resonate painfully with Marnie’s or Anna’s experiences, but it does seem that both characters find resolution by the end of the film – so the film could be helpful for connecting with and working through painful emotions, even for people who will recognize aspects of their own stories in the movie.

Weak Points

In a couple scenes, Anna wakes up by the side of the road, dirty and disoriented. It’s initially unclear what has brought her there, and this could be concerning or troubling for some viewers.


What an emotional experience this film is. Some aspects of When Marnie Was There might make it too scary, or too slow, for young viewers. It seems like a better fit for kids ages 11 and up. There is a lot of relevance to foster care and adoption. Anna does not look like the other kids around her – her eyes are blue, “like a foreigner,” while her peers all appear to be Japanese. Kids who have been adopted cross-culturally may resonate with this. Anna also wonders about the meaning of the fact that her guardians receive money for her care. This could be a very real concern for many kids in foster care, or adopted out of foster care, or for people who question the role of money when it’s connected to care or adoption. The film’s message is, “we do receive money, but it doesn’t change the fact that we love you.” It could be a helpful tool in having that conversation with your kids, if this is something that they’ve been (perhaps secretly) wondering or worrying about. Finally, the film highlights the importance of honesty. Anna feels so much better and so much freer after she knows her own history and also after Yuriko openly talks with her about the issue of financial reimbursement for foster care. I’d recommend this one for kids age 11 and up, as well as for adults who are involved in adoption or foster care. It’s a good one for adults and kids to watch together or for adults to watch alone.

Questions for Discussion

How do you imagine Anna felt when she was sent away to Kushiro?

What places are important to you, before you came here?

Why is it sad to be in foster care? Why might it be sad to not have been taken into care?

How do you achieve a full, integrated acceptance of your story?

Related Films

The recently-released Disney/Pixar film Inside Out also examines the source of the emotions of a pre-teen girl. Click here for the Adoption Movie Review of Inside Out.

In Kung Fu Panda 2, Mr. Ping shares Po’s adoption story with him. Po finds it possible to integrate all parts of his identity, and he is helped by knowing the truth. Click here for the Adoption Movie Review of Kung Fu Panda 2.

In Closure, a young adult who was adopted from foster care as an infant travels across the country in order to find answers about the circumstances of her adoption and the identity of her birth family. Click here for the Adoption Movie Review of Closure.
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