Saturday, August 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

"Mother and Child": Movies and the Adoption Option

It's obvious why Rodrigo Garcia was inspired to make Mother and Child, his empathic multicharacter film considering the impact of adoption on each party in the so-called triad. Few storylines provide the tears, reconciliation and joy of the separated-at-birth, reunited-years-later tale. In Garcia's film, Annette Bening is the woman who still grieves the loss of the infant she relinquished as a teenager. Naomi Watts is an adoptee who belatedly initiates a search for her birth parents. Kerry Washington an infertile woman with baby fever, hoping to adopt. Blood may be thicker than water, but love is stickier than any bodily fluid.

"Mother and Child": Movies and the Adoption Option

In "Flirting With Disaster," Ben Stiller (center), adopted at birth, has anxiety about being a new father and initiates a search for his birth parents. (At left, Patricia Arquette).
In "Flirting With Disaster," Ben Stiller (center), adopted at birth, has anxiety about being a new father and initiates a search for his birth parents. (At left, Patricia Arquette).

It's obvious why Rodrigo Garcia was inspired to make Mother and Child, his empathic multicharacter film considering the impact of adoption on each party in the so-called triad. Few storylines provide the tears, reconciliation and joy of the separated-at-birth, reunited-years-later tale. In Garcia's film, Annette Bening is the woman who still grieves the loss of the infant she relinquished as a teenager. Naomi Watts is an adoptee who belatedly initiates a search for her birth parents. Kerry Washington an infertile woman with baby fever, hoping to adopt. Blood may be thicker than water, but love is stickier than any bodily fluid.

Adoption movies come in almost every genre, from horror (The Bad Seed, The Omen) to screwball comedy (Baby Boom, Flirting With Disaster) to heroic saga (The Blind Side, Citizen Kane, The Prince of Egypt, Star Wars.) During the 1940s, adoption was by and large the subject of tearjerkers such as Oliver Twist, Penny Serenade and To Each His Own, both made when adoption was closed and the possibility of reuniting with birth parents thus very slim. In the 1950s it was presented in social-problem films like Our Very Own, with teenager Ann Blyth stunned to learn that she was adopted or The Bad Seed,  with Patty McCormack as the pig-tailed adoptee whose smile masks her psychotic nature. The 1960s gave us Pollyanna, the "glad girl" who transforms her cold-hearted aunt (Jane Wyman) into a humanitarian. The 1980s and 1990s introduced the adoption screwball comedy (besides those listed above, also Raising Arizona and Mighty Aphrodite) and revisited the adoption melodrama with Casa de los Babys, Losing Isiaiah and Secrets and Lies. More recently adoption has been the subject of dramedies like And Then She Found Me, Happy Endings, Juno and Martian Child.

Nothing makes Flickgrrl weep more copiously than Penny Serenade (with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne as the parents dealing with all kinds of loss) and To Each His Own (Olivia de Havilland as a single mother who relinquishes her son to friends and never tells him their relation). But if she had to pick the three most satisfying adoption movies, they would be Flirting With Disaster (1996), with Ben Stiller as the new father inspired to search out his bio-parents and concluding he's more like his adoptive parents than he had ever dreamed;  The Revolt of Job ( 1983 ), an exceptional Hungarian film about a Jewish couple who adopt a Gentile boy a few years before World War II;  and Antwone Fisher (2002), with Derek Luke as the real-life seaman who with the help of navy psychiatrist Denzel Washington confronts his past and searches for his biological family.

Do you have a beloved adoption movie? Do you prefer the ones that make you cry or laugh?

Carrie Rickey Film Critic
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Carrie Rickey Film Critic
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