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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Rich people control everything. The greatest tragedy is poverty.
Positive Role Models
Malena is a high-strung, anxious woman with no patience for adversity and no skills to handle it. She seems to have her heart in the right place, but really doesn't think about the welfare of others much. Her husband Mariano is kind and understanding. Entrepreneurs have turned adoption into an illegal business in Argentina.
Violence & Scariness
In Argentina, as in other countries, there's a thriving black-market economy dealing in baby adoption. Abortion is banned except in rare cases. So-called "baby mills" care for pregnant women who then give up their babies for social, economic, or other reasons in exchange for sharing the proceeds with the baby mills. Money is extorted from families desperate to adopt. Malena loses her temper easily. A woman screams through childbirth.
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Products & Purchases
Babies are treated as a commodity by those who want to adopt and for pregnant women who don't want or can't afford their babies.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A woman is given a tranquilizer. An adult smokes cigarettes.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that A Sort of Family is a 2017 Argentinian feature that addresses the moral, economic, and political ramifications of adoption. Although the movie never specifically mentions it, the Argentinian ban on abortions, except in the cases of rape and risk to the mother's life, can be thought of as one reason an illicit market in babies has grown in that country. For that reason, some poor women are forced to give birth and give their babies up for adoption, an enterprise that has been monetized to benefit brokers. "Baby mills" house and care for such pregnant women. These sketchy institutions shake down those wealthy enough to pay high fees for babies. The focus here is on a childless woman who seems oblivious to the illegality of this process until the day of the birth, when she's told she cannot take the baby home unless she pays $10,000. A woman screams through childbirth. Authorities detain the adoptive parents over illegal paperwork. A woman loses her temper when things don't go her way. Adults smoke cigarettes. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.