Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Secrets and Lies Adoption Movie Review

Middle-aged Cynthia struggles amidst family drama when out of the blue she receives a call about a baby she placed for adoption decades ago. Although she is initially nervous, Cynthia eventually agrees to meet the caller, her birthdaughter, Hortense. Cynthia continues to meet Hortense in secret, and she takes joy in seeing that Hortense is succeeding in life, even though Cynthia herself struggles to make ends meet. Cynthia struggles within herself, wanting her family to know about her newly-found daughter, but also wanting to keep her secret hidden.

The Adoption Connection


When she was 15 years old, Cynthia slept with a vacationing American medical student; when she woke up, he was gone. Cynthia decided to place her child for adoption. When Hortense and Cynthia meet, Cynthia has a hard time believing that Hortense could be her daughter, because Cynthia is Caucasian and Hortense is Black. Cynthia initially refuses to tell Hortense who her father is, but ultimately tells her. Cynthia’s daughter Roxanne initially seems to reject Hortense, but later says that she is happy to have her as a half-sister. Cynthia’s brother commends Hortense for seeking out her history. One character struggles with infertility. Hortense did not seek out her birth family until after her adoptive parents had passed away.

Strong Points

This film captures the truth that when we face our pain, we can find healing.

Cynthia overcomes her fear to meet Hortense, and eventually introduces her to her family. The family is understandably shocked, but welcome Hortense. Hortense acts bravely in tracking down her birthfamily.

This is a well-acted, thoughtful British film from 1996; it seems quite forward-thinking in its treatment of openness in adoption.


One character suffers from infertility; another character, not knowing this, criticizes her for not providing children for her husband. Even this secret comes to light, which allows the family to respond with kindness and concern.


Secrets and Lies is a film that you might have missed, but it’s very much worth seeing for adoptive parents, adult adoptees, and people considering becoming adoptive parents. It’s a powerful picture of the pain that comes from secrecy, and the healing that can be found when we let trustworthy people know us. Strongly recommended for adults.

Questions for Discussion

Which secrets could have caused the most pain?

Which characters do you think are feeling the most relief by the end of the movie?

Why do you think Hortense chose to seek out her birthmother? Why do you think she waited until after her adoptive parents had passed away?

Which characters do you relate to?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom

Eleven-year-old Elizabeth realizes that she is an adoptee when a class project about blood type makes it obvious that she does not share genetics with her parents. She confronts her parents and asks why they lied to her, and ultimately runs away. Her mother Marion sets off to find her, and learns that Elizabeth now believes that the famous singer Dolly Parton is her birthmother. Marion struggles with Elizabeth’s desire to find her birthmother, and wonders aloud, “If I’m no one’s mother, who the hell am I?” However, she ultimately decides to take Elizabeth to a Dolly Parton concert. There, Elizabeth realizes who she wants to call “mom.”

The Adoption Connection

Elizabeth was adopted as an infant, and her parents kept the adoption a secret from her. Elizabeth learned about the adoption through a class project, and was enraged when she learned that her parents had lied to her. She sets off to meet Dolly Parton, who she believes to be her birthmother. Later, she learns that Dolly Parton is not her birthmother, and she clings to Marion.

Strong Points

Elizabeth’s desire to know her birthmother, and her hurt feelings at learning that she’d been lied to about adoption, are powerful. This film could encourage adoptive parents to speak openly about adoption with their kids.

Although Marion is initially threatened by Elizabeth’s desire to find her birthmother, she eventually supports Elizabeth, and this seems to be part of what heals her relationship with Elizabeth.
When Marion feels her identity as a mother threatened, someone wisely advises her, “You never stop being someone’s mother. Because Elizbaeth is adopted, how does that make you less her mother? You can’t be the one who brought her into the world, but you can be the one that guides her through it.” That’s some pretty sound advice.


Elizabeth confronts her parents and asks why they lied to her. Marion’s answer falls flat, “For your own good, to protect you.” It seems that Elizabeth’s parents do not agree about ow to handle the situation.

Elizabeth’s friends and classmates are insensitive. They call her a bastard, and her best friend stops spending time with her.

It’s painful when Elizabeth isn’t able to find out her birthparents’ names; her parents explain that they were “not allowed to have that information.” Elizbaeth deeply wants to know, “Who looks like me?”
Marion pushes Elizabeth, throws Elizabeth’s bike down a cliff, and says “I didn’t even want you. I didn’t want you, that’s the whole story. You made me into your mother. I’ve been afraid that you could unmake me, too.” Her fears are real, but Elizabeth is too young, and too hurt herself, to deal with her mother’s initial unwillingness to adopt her, her mother’s fears of not being a mom, and her mother’s startling act of throwing the bicycle down the cliff.  


The Year Dolly Parton was my Mom is a thought-provoking and well-made film. It doesn’t seem like it would interest most kids or teens, but it’s definitely worth seeing for adoptive parents and folks considering becoming adoptive parents. As you watch it, consider how you will talk to your kids about their adoption.

Questions for Discussion

Why did Elizabeth’s parents say they lied to her? Why do you think they actually did?

How might their family dynamics be different had they been open about the adoption from the beginning?

What might help Elizabeth as she continues to incorporate this aspect of her life story into her self-concept?

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Glass Castle Adoption Movie Review

Rex and Rose Mary Walls lived a nomadic lifestyle with their four children. Rose Mary was a free-spirited artist, and Rex had big dreams, but Rex’s alcoholism and Rose Mary’s commitment to her art resulted in the children going without food, not attending school, and moving from home to home to avoid eviction or arrest. Now a young adult, Jeannette Walls remembers aspects of her childhood while adjusting to life as a young professional adult in 1980’s New York City. Jeannette’s parents and siblings have all relocated to New York; Jeannette works for a newspaper, one of her siblings is a police officer, and her parents are squatting in a building. Rex does not approve of Jeannette’s life; he finds it too sanitary. She struggles with being ashamed of her parents, and often lies about them, even though some aspects of her childhood remain present in her adult life: she takes home leftovers from restaurants when others in her party don’t, she keeps her belongings in boxes, and she bears the scars she sustained while cooking food for herself as a young child. Jeannette has stopped communicating with Rex after one too many blow-ups regarding her fiancé. When Rex becomes sick and draws near death, Jeannette must decide whether to let him stay in her past or whether to go and make her peace with him before he passes.

The Adoption Connection

There is no mention of adoption in this film, but several aspects of the story seem relevant for people who have experience with foster care or with the child protective services system. Jeannette and her siblings are receiving inadequate care; their parents do love them, but the children are left underfed and undereducated, and their housing is often unstable. For a brief time, the children live with their paternal grandmother, and it appears that she molests Jeannette’s brother. The other children physically attack her to protect their brother, but their father refuses to hear their allegations.
A couple times, a character mentions that they don’t want the children to be taken away from them; it appears that part of the family’s reason for staying on the run is to avoid child protective services workers. After she is burned, Rex sneaks Jeannette out of the hospital when a social worker has started to show concern about their family.

Now that she is an adult in New York City, Jeannette struggles to form her own identity as well as her understanding of her parents. She is initially ashamed of them, but ultimately is able to form a balanced view of her father as a person with significant problems, but also a person who loved her and had positive characteristics.

Some kids in foster care have particular issues around food; Jeannette has not been in foster care, but also exhibits some insecurity about the availability of food.

Strong Points

Rex and Rose Mary love their children, even though their family is dysfunctional. This film can challenge foster and fost-adoptive parents to develop a well-rounded view of their children’s birthparents as people with real problems, who have abused or neglected children, but who also have redeeming characteristics.

Rex tries (and temporarily succeeds) to become sober at Jeannette’s request. Jeannette clearly but compassionately tells him that she is not ashamed of him, but that when he drinks, he can’t take care of his children.

We see that Jeannette’s family is important to her, even as she struggles with her feelings towards them. When her fiancé speaks ill of them, it hurts her. It is important for foster and fost-adoptive parents to remember that kids often have deep love for their parents, even though their parents may have made poor choices that have impacted the children negatively. The healthiest outcome for an adoptee or a child in foster care is a well-rounded view of their life and circumstances in which their parents are viewed as real people with strengths and weaknesses, with successes and failures, with redeeming qualities as well as concerning factors that led to the child’s involvement in the foster care system. Monochromatically positive or negative understandings of their birth parents are likely to be inaccurate, confusing, and unhelpful.

Jeannette is able to express her frustrations clearly to her parents about the ways in which they failed. At times it’s brutal, but the things she say do ring of truth, and it’s helpful for her to acknowledge the losses she suffered; in fact, acknowledging the losses may have made it possible for her to also acknowledge the positive aspects of her childhood. Eventually, she expresses a clear, integrated understanding of her father as a squatter, a drunk, occasionally cruel, but also a big dreamer and the smartest man she knows. Later, she discovers that he has treasured all of her writings. She confides in him, I am like you, and I’m glad.” Eventually, her father dies. Jeannette, her mother and her siblings gather to remember him.
The film is dedicated “to all families, who despite their scars find a way to love.”


Jeannette’s parents put her in dangerous situations; her father throws her repeatedly into a pool to teach her to swim, even though she fears that he is trying to kill her. They also have four of their children, including an infant, ride in the storage compartment of a moving truck because there aren’t enough seats in the cab.

Rex’s mother is unkind; even though she has not seen Rex in a long time, she insults him in front of his children, and hits Rex’s son on the back of the head during his first meal with her. Later, she appears to molest her grandson. Jeannette yells at her to not hit her brother, but her father tells Jeannette to show respect to her grandmother. Later, Jeannette wonders if her father was also abused by his grandmother, but in a moment of anger she tells him that she doesn’t care what was done to him.

As a pre-teen, Jeannette has to stitch a wound on her father; he assures her that he is so drunk that he won’t feel anything.

Some scenes seem to suggest domestic violence between Rex and Rose Mary. In one scene, Rose 
Mary hangs out of a window.  

While Rex is trying to sober up, he attempts to manipulate Jeannette into giving him a drink by saying “Do you want your daddy to die?”

The children often have more responsibility than they should; Jeannette takes responsibility for trying to help Rex stay sober. Decades later, Rex tells her that no little girl should have to carry her father on her back.

When Jeannette is a young woman, or perhaps late in her teenage years, she appeals to her father for help as she tries to avoid the advances of one of her father’s barroom friends. He declines to help her, because he is angry after having learned that she intends to move away from the family. This leads to Jeannette being taken up to the friend’s apartment, where he tries to rape her.

Adults hit children and children hit adults.

In a moment of anger, Jeannette tells her parents, “We were never a family; we were a nightmare.” She means this, but later she also remembers the moments in which they did function as a loving family.


The Glass Castle isn’t for kids, and might be triggering for many teens who have experienced abuse or neglect. It could also be difficult for kids and teens who haven’t yet developed a healthy, integrated view of their birth parents. For adoptive or foster parents, this could be a worthwhile challenging film that offers an opportunity to reflect on the importance of an adopted person having a holistic view of their background and birth family. As you watch it, think about the ways in which your child values their history, and think about ways that you can help them find and celebrate the positive characteristics of their family of origin while also helping them give voice to their painful feelings with regard to the mistreatment they may have experienced.

Questions for Discussion

What aspects of her father does Jeannette resent? Which ones does she admire?

Would you be comfortable with your child having powerful, mixed feelings about their birth family? Are you comfortable with everything they might express? What can you do to become more comfortable with this?

How may Rex have been impacted by abuse he suffered as a child?

Why did Jeannette decide to see Rex? What good came out of that final visit?

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Leap! Adoption Movie Review

In 1880’s France, the Eiffel Tower is still being built, and two young orphans dream of escaping their rural orphanage to pursue their dreams in France. Free-spirited and adventurous Félicie dreams of being a ballerina while her clever but awkward friend Victor dreams of being an inventor. One night, they escape their castle-like orphanage, and manage to outrun M. Luteau, the orphanage supervisor who chases them on his motorcycle. Félicie and Victor stow away in an overnight train and awake to find themselves in Paris. It’s the city of their dreams, but they’re alone and without resources. They get separated, but Félicie is excited to see the famous ballet school where she hopes to train. Félicie goes to the school in the evening. An employee misinterprets her to be a thief and prepares to strike her, but Odette, the caretaker of the building. Félicie follows Odette to Odette’s other job and offers to help her clean. Félicie wants nothing more than to be a ballerina. She is impressed to meet Camille, the daughter of the cruel wealthy woman whose mansion Odette cleans. Camille is cruel to her, and in retaliation, Félicie steals an invitation intended to admit Camille to a series of auditions at the ballet school. Félicie attends, pretending to be Camille, but her deception is uncovered, and she must compete with Camille for the chance to live her dreams.  

The Adoption Connection

Félicie and Victor are orphans. The orphanage staff – a nun named Mother Superior and a supervisor named M. Luteau – are stern, but they appear to care for the children. M. Luteau becomes concern when he realizes that Félicie has “lost her spirit” and encourages her to chase her dreams.
Félicie has a small music box, which was the only item with her when she was found outside of an orphanage. Cruel Camille breaks the box once, and even after it is repaired, tries to break it again.

Félicie believes that dance connects her to her unknown mother; this is why she dances.

Félicie has frequent dreams about her mother’s voice; each time, she appears to wake up in a panic.

Strong Points

Odette and Félicie develop a true bond, and even though Félicie’s deception could cost Odette her job, Odette continues to be accepting towards her. Odette feeds Félicie, and wakes up very early to teach her ballet. One day, Félicie runs to Odette and hugs her. Odette asks what the hug is for, and Félicie says, “for everything.”

When the ballet master learns that Félicie had lied to get an audition, and that she is really an orphan, he still gives her a fair chance to earn a spot in the ballet.
Félicie has a true and loyal friend in Victor. The staff of the orphanage also appear to genuinely care for her.

Félicie is encouraged to never give up on her dreams.


Some phrasing seems insensitive and could be difficult for young ears. One character tells Félicie to be careful with her music box because it was “the one thing left in your crib when you were abandoned outside the orphanage.”

Félicie is quickly separated from Victor when they arrive in France, and is truly on her own. She is mistaken for a thief by one adult, treated very poorly by others, and ultimately sent back to the orphanage.

Camille’s mother is not satisfied merely with Camille winning the audition over Félicie; she desires even more revenge. She has Félicie sent back to her orphanage, and promises Odette, to whom Félicie had bonded, “You’ll never see her again.” This could be particularly difficult for kids who fear being sent away from their adoptive homes. Later, when Félicie returns to Pairs, Camille’s mother tries to murder her with a sledgehammer, and then again by throwing her off a high statue.

While trying to find a home with Odette, Félicie tries to garner sympathy, saying “I have nowhere to go, and I’m an orphan.” Odette does not trust her, and tries to dismiss her harshly, saying “I hate kids… especially orphans.”

Camille continues to refer to Félicie as “Little Rat” and continues to tell Félicie, “you’re nothing.”

When Félicie gets frustrated at Odette’s advice, she tells her in anger, “You’re not my mom.” This hurts Odette. Félicie quickly apologizes, but Odette appears to agree. Later, Félicie comes back to Odette and proclaims that she wants to stay with he and Odette welcomes her with an embrace.

Leap is an imaginative film that appears most likely to appeal to a younger audience, of maybe ages 7-10. For most youngsters, the film will be moderately enjoyable. For children touched by adoption, the film poses some potential, and some significant concerns. Félicie and Victor are orphans, and Félicie eventually does find a sense of home with Odette. Parents viewing the film with their children could point out all the people that care for Félicie, and could also highlight the fact that Félicie didn’t give up on her dreams, and the fact that one of her dreams continues to connect her to her birthmother even though she has no knowledge of her. Conversely, there are some significant challenges: Félicie is sent back to the orphanage by a cruel woman. People speak unkindly to her. She is all alone in a big city. A cruel woman tries to kill her. A cruel child damages her only heirloom and continually tells her that she is “nothing.” For many adoptive families, the potential for good will be outweighed by the potential triggers. Parents should probably watch this one first, before sharing it with their kids. If you do share it, it does offer some positive topics for discussion.

Questions for Discussion

Why was dance so important to Félicie? What things connect you to your birth family?

Who are your closest friends?

What are your passions? Where do you get them from?

Why was Camille’s mother so mean? Why did Camille change?

In what ways was Victor a good friend to Félicie? Why did he hide under the desk?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Coraline Adoption Movie Review

A young girl named Coraline has recently moved to Oregon from Michigan. Her parents bluntly convey that they do not have time for her, and Coraline is not interested in making friends with an eccentric neighbor boy named Wybie, so she is left to explore the 150-year-old house on her own, with her only company being a neighborhood black cat and a rag doll that Wybie found and brought to her after noticing how much it looked like her.

In her dreams, Coraline visits a world where her parents and neighbors have been replaced by lookalike ragdolls who are much kinder to her, and much more to her liking, than their real-world counterparts. These parents, who call themselves her “Other Mother” and “Other Father” present as very kind to Coraline, but they say she can only stay with them forever if she lets the “Other Mother” sew buttons onto her eyes. Coraline tries to leave, but then finds that her dream world has started to invade her waking world.


The Adoption Connection

Coraline feels neglected by her parents; in fact, her mother bluntly says that she does not have time for Coraline, and rather harshly tells Coraline to stop talking to her. She desires more attentive parents, and so is drawn towards the Other Mother and Other Father. When she finds the Other Mother to be cruel, she tells her, “You’re not my real mother,” and she is punished for this by being thrown into a cell, to remain until “you learn to be a loving daughter.” Eventually, she gets her real parents back, and finds that they do love her, and are more able to show it now that they’re not as busy with work.

Strong Points

It’s clear by the end of the film that Coraline’s parents do love her, and she loves them, even though it’s not always well expressed.


Coraline’s “Other Parents” are not what they seem. Her “Other Mother” is actually a conjurer. She uses rag dolls to spy on children, to find what makes them unhappy, and then uses that knowledge to lure them into her world. With luring promises of love and attention, she has trapped other children in her world, and although they remember their “true mothers,” they have forgotten their own names. The “Other Mother” has taken their eyes and holds their souls captive. Coraline escapes her clutches, but then she captures Coraline’s parents, forcing Coraline to come back into her world to try to save her parents. After she saves her parents, they have no recollection of what she’s done for them, and the conjurer makes another frightening attempt to break into the real world and capture Coraline. I could see this film being scary for many young children, and being particularly troubling for children in foster or adoptive homes, who could be bothered by the film’s portrayal of an “Other Mother” as a sinister person with cruel motives.

Coraline’s friend “Wybie” has a cruel name. His full name is “Whybourne,” and the implication is that his grandmother calls him that to ask, “Why were you [even] born?”

The “Other Mother” is cruel, even to her own creations. When one of them showed sadness, she stitched a gruesome smile onto his face.

The “Other Mother” tricks Coraline by disguising herself as Coraline’s real mother. She also compels the “Other Father,” who does seem to love Coraline, to attack her.

The film seems to excuse Coraline’s parents for being so inattentive to her feelings. For kids who have been neglected, it might feel like the film is portraying Coraline’s desire for more attentive parents as the problem, although it is true that kids whose emotional needs aren’t met at home sometimes seek to have those needs met in dangerous places.


Coraline has some horroresque scenes that could disturb kids and even some sensitive teens. Also, the film’s plot involving a deceptively hostile “other, better” mother and father could be difficult for kids who have been connected to the foster care system or who have been adopted. This one might best be left to teenagers, and parents might want to check it out before seeing it alongside their kids.

Questions for Discussion

In what ways does Coraline’s story remind you of your own? In what ways is it different?

Who were the people that Coraline could depend on? Who are the people you can depend on?

What did Coraline need from her parents? Did she eventually get it?

Do you have any dreams that you’ve had several times?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Kiki's Delivery Service Adoption Movie Review

At age 13, a witch leaves her parents and tries to find a new city to call home. This is true for young Kiki, who sets off on her mother’s broomstick and flies to a seaside town. Without money or direction, she is lost, but when she performs a favor for a pregnant bakery owner, she is welcomed to stay with them. She has a place to call home in exchange for some help around the bakery, and she is also allowed to operate her new business from their home. Kiki can fly – so she operates a delivery service. Kiki has a hard time making friends, but her good heart earn her the friendship of a kindly pair of elderly ladies and a boy. For a short while, it seems that she is losing her ability to do magic, but some time with a good friend – and a chance to rediscover a purpose for her skills – might do her some good.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is a 1989 film that was recently screened in theaters nationwide as part of Fathom Events’ ongoing celebration of Studio Ghibli films.

The Adoption Connection

Kiki is taken in by a warm couple. They provide food and shelter for her, and also give her the freedom to thrive. Kiki finds new friends, and makes a place for herself, as she adjusts to life in a new city.

Strong Points

Kiki is warmly received by several kindly new friends. Their charitable nature and her general kindness make a space for her in her new city. The film seems generally optimistic and hopeful about the nature of people.

Kiki is loved by her parents. They let her go with their blessing because it is a rite of passage for her, but they will miss her. She sends them a note to let her know that all is well.

Kiki seems to desperately want friends, but also is very nervous to be around new people. That seems pretty honest, and it could be helpful for kids who feel similarly to see it portrayed in a kind character.

Kiki is told that her ability to fly is a gift from God, and she must use it. She does put it to use to save a friend in distress.


Some parents may be put off by the fact that Kiki is a witch, but the film does not have a dark feel. Her magic feels more like Avatar-style airbending.


Kiki’s Delivery Service is a charming and optimistic story that could be helpful or meaningful for kids who have adjusted to a new town. There is a scene where a boy is in distress – Kiki must save him before he drops from a great height, but aside from this the film seems pretty kid-friendly. This one seems good for kids and teens ages 7-15 or so.

Questions for Discussion

What do you think Kiki was feeling as she adjusted to her new town? What helped her feel at home?

Who was the most important person in helping Kiki get settled in?

If you could fly, where would you go? How high would you fly?

If one of our pets could talk, what do you think they would talk about?

Why do you think Kiki was sometimes shy around other kids?

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