While in many ways this is smart and absorbing, its overall confusion makes it difficult to take in its well-meaning message. A Sort of Family is an obvious treatise on the moral and legal ramifications of adoption, but it falls down in its pacing, construction, clarity, and focus. The baby mill phenomenon will probably be familiar to Argentinian audiences, but Americans may need more information. And it sure feels as if the writer and director are raising another issue -- the unavailability of abortion in that country -- without mentioning it. Also ignored is the fact that Malena, morose, impatient, explosive, uncompromising, and depressive, is the last person anyone would want to turn a newborn over to. Adoptive parents normally must undergo rigorous screening in order to prevent people as unstable and prone to impulsive thoughtless acts as Malena from caring for children. Malena is an emotional mess and we don't know if it's because she had a stillborn child or because she's just an unstable person. The script also never addresses how anyone as educated (evidently) as Malena -- they keep calling her "Doctor" -- could walk into an adoption situation, having had months to learn about the operation during her wait for the baby's arrival, without figuring out that she's dealing with an illegal extortion scam. The movie makes its point that the poor are victims here, whether forced by abortion restrictions to have unwanted children or forced to give children up for monetary compensation in order to help women raise their other children. Marcela knows she must give up her child and is angry that she must. "Rich people control everything," she observes angrily.
In any case, although Lennie gives a great performance as the unhinged, depressive Malena, it's difficult to watch anyone, even a fictional character, be this out of control and self-destructive. So many questions are left unanswered. What are Argentinian laws on adoption? If Malena and Mariano had flown home with the baby instead of driving, would they have been able to keep the child? And the movie's many difficulties begin early. In the extremely slow and confusing 15 opening minutes, the director gives no indication as to what's going on. Why is Malena sitting in her car in the rain? Where is she driving to? What's on her mind? On the other hand, later, the director is obvious to the point of silliness. Locusts actually swarm Malena as she jumps into her car for safety. Her punishment for being privileged and unfit for motherhood is clearly meant to be biblical. And this is the one area where the audience can support the film's premise. Malena deserves such punishment, based on her presumptuous notion that she somehow knows what's best for Marcela's baby boy.