The XX Factor

Why Would a Movie About Adoption Need To Show All Sides?

Maybe I should start with the disclosure: I haven’t seen Mother and Child , and I probably won’t-not because it’s not getting great reviews, but because I prefer movies with more explosions, particularly if the fireworks are played for laughs. That may weaken my credibility as a critic, but I am an adoptive parent, which makes me fully qualified to state that I’m not bothered at all by a movie about adoption that focuses on loss, or one where the adoptive mother who raised an adult adoptee is nowhere to be seen, any more than I’m bothered by Sharon Stone in Casino , snorting up cocaine in front of her daughter (“never do this,”) or Angelica Huston in The Grifters .* There’s more than one story in motherhood (or, for that matter, in lawyering-I’m good with Legally Blonde , too). With more than 100,000 adoptions annually in the United States, there’s more than one story in adoption.

I get that Salon writer (and fellow adoptive parent) Sarah Coleman is frustrated by the trope used in Mother and Child -that of a birth mother embittered and defined by giving up her baby and an adoptee damaged and forever responding to her abandonment. It’s scarcely an original narrative of adoption. (In fact, it’s one that borders on outdated: Most people today would attribute the reaction of Annette Bening as the birth mother to the way she was treated as a pregnant 14-year-old in the ‘70s and blame the parents-make that adoptive parents-of adoptee Naomi Watts for her perpetual sense of being alone in the world.) But it’s a far more dramatic story than the pleasant alternative narratives suggested by Coleman as equally or even more plausible tales of people adopted at birth-just as the average “date night” would make a far less interesting movie than Date Night .

Adoption, like stepfamilies, extended families, single-parent families, and any of the many other ways we put together our own familial networks over the course of our lives, is part of our cultural narrative, and I’m pleased every time it enters into our entertainment as well. Maybe even more pleased when it’s a messy portrayal, not a politically correct nod to inclusiveness. Adoption is just another aspect of normal, with all of the varying degrees that normal really entails. That makes it fine to tell as many different stories about it as you want.

*Thanks to Dre Rivas at for the handy reference to Bad Mothers in Film .