Review of Somewhere Between

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This film is a documentary on four teenage girls living in different parts of the US who are united by one thing: all four were adopted from China due to family situations colliding with the country's "One Child Policy."
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Movie Review: "Somewhere Between"

-- Rating: NA
Length: 88 minutes
Release Date: August 24, 2012
Directed by: Linda Goldstein Knowlton
Genre: Documentary

Since 1989, 80,000 girls have been adopted from China, a decade after the country instituted a one-child policy. The policy states that Chinese families can only have one child, and since male children are more highly favored, this has led to an increase in female Chinese infants being placed in orphanages. The movie, "Somewhere Between," chronicles the lives of four such females: Haley, Fang, Ann and Jenna, all of whom were adopted by American families.

Being adopted has its challenges when you still live in the country where you were born, but when you are taken to a different country with a completely different culture, it makes being adopted even more of a challenge. These four girls have adapted to their lives (all were adopted as infants) and have grown into typical American teenage girls. But as you listen to each of the girls speak, there is an underlying wistfulness as they struggle with the universal question, "who am I?"

This question leads the teens to seek out others like them and to make trips back to their birth country. One girl becomes enamored with a little girl in an orphanage who has cerebral palsy and tracks her life after she is also adopted by an American family. Haley actually meets her birth family, and the reunion is a mixture of joy and stress. The anguish displayed by her birth mother brings home the heartbreaking reality of living in a country where a female child can mean a lifetime of financial hardship.

The director, Linda Goldstein Knowlton, is no stranger to the Chinese adoption process. She adopted her daughter, Ruby, from China. Her approach, however, in the documentary seems to be a thinly-veiled attempt to paint a completely happily-ever-after ending for all Chinese adoptions, which is rather misguided. Just like adoptions that occur within U.S. borders, adoptions can fail. The movie has an overall feel good tone, with a few moments of angst and conflict thrown in. The documentary might have had more depth if the director had delved into the negative impacts of adoption or explained the rationale behind China's one-child policy, which, although tragic, resulted from very real and serious problems. Perhaps Ms. Knowlton is hoping life will imitate art and that her own adoption story will indeed continue to go well. Knowlton wisely stays out of the documentary, with the exception of the opening and closing scenes. Had she been a greater presence, the documentary would have lost any credibility it has and would have come off as more of a home movie than a documentary about adoption between two continents.

The four teen girls are interesting, if a little one-dimensional. They are typical teens, but they are almost too typical. The documentary might have been more effective if the main subjects were more flawed, had more questions or were more vocal about their feelings of always being "somewhere between" two cultures. Yes, these four girls have fully accepted the American way of life, but it is hard to believe that every child adopted from China is thrilled with the experience and doesn't yearn to learn more about the country of their birth. If more teenaged girls from that mold had been included, the documentary might have been more balanced.

The movie will appeal to anyone who has been through an adoption, either as a child or adoptive parent. No matter how comfortable and fulfilled adopted children might be, there is usually a small part who wonders who they are, where they came from and why their birth family gave them up. As an adoptive parent, there is always the dread that the child you call your own will one day want answers to questions you cannot answer, or worse, want to be with someone more like them. The parents in "Somewhere Between" are to be commended for having the courage to let their daughters explore these important questions in the face of possible rejection.

Overall, "Between Somewhere" was an enjoyable documentary. Both the American and Chinese families portrayed in the film were likeable, the scenery was spectacular and the documentary was filmed and edited masterfully. More important, it covers an issue that needs more attention. The one-child policy is not going to change, but with China relaxing its adoption laws, more Chinese females can avoid growing up in an a orphanage and go on to have happy, fulfilling lives with families who love them.

3 out of 5 stars