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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Far From the Tree is a moving documentary based on writer Andrew Solomon's best-selling 2012 nonfiction book about parents who are raising children completely unlike themselves. The film follows various parents and children (some adults, some still underage) who have dealt with various differences (dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, sexual orientation, social-emotional issues) that can add unexpected dimensions to parent-child relationships. There are a few mature conversations about parenting, the ways children/people with differences are perceived and treated, and the lasting damage that can be done to kids if their parents can't find a way to accept, help, or support them. Expect a few quick glimpses of couples kissing, as well as a champagne toast at a wedding. One family also discusses their child who, as a teen, murdered an even younger child.
What's the story?
FAR FROM THE TREE is a documentary based on writer Andrew Solomon's best-selling nonfiction book Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. Directed by Rachel Dretzin, the film follows several families in which parents are raising children who are utterly unlike them, whether it's because of a disability, a genetic difference, a different sexual identity, or other characteristics. For example, Jason is in his early 40s and has Down syndrome. As a kid, he was a poster child for proving that kids with Down syndrome could learn and outperform expectations (he was even on Sesame Street), but as an adult he has trouble differentiating between reality and fantasy (he's in love with Elsa from Frozen). Jack is a nonverbal teen with autism who speaks with the assistance of a computer. Loini is a lonely 23-year-old little person who's very close to her mother and finally comes out of her shell at a Little People of America conference. There's also Trevor, who's never seen because he's in prison for committing a horrific crime. Solomon himself provides a through line, discussing his own troubled relationship with this parents (especially his mother), who didn't want to accept that he was gay.
Is it any good?
This poignant, compelling documentary effectively adapts Solomon's book about parents struggling with the reality of raising children who aren't necessarily what they expected. Far From the Tree isn't intended to answer too many questions, but it clearly and proudly promotes tolerance, acceptance, and love. While some of the case-study families are more riveting than others, they're all interesting enough to keep audiences rapt. If anything, moviegoers may wish there was a deeper dive into some of the cases, particularly Trevor's. But this isn't a crime-based documentary, so it's understandable why the film widens its focus.
The adult children in the documentary are particularly interesting: Jason, who's 41 and has Down syndrome, and Joe, who is a little person, are completely unlike their parents, yet they each have incredibly close bonds with them. (Joe's story is particularly compelling; it shows how he and his wife not only found each other but also become parents to a child they will love, whether the baby is a little person or not.) Jason's mom makes it clear that she's disappointed he didn't continue to be the renowned role model for people with Down syndrome that he was as a younger child/adolescent, but Jason seems fairly happy to live with his two best friends and re-watch Frozen. Solomon's own tale is moving, especially because there are still so many LGBTQ+ kids who feel their parents don't accept or love them. Maybe they could all sit down and watch this film together.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the messages in Far From the Tree. What is the filmmaker (and the author) saying about parents and kids? Why is it sometimes hard for parents to accept that their children aren't like them?
What are the movie's messages about tolerance, acceptance, and diversity? Do kids have to look and act like their parents to fit in with them? What can parents do to make sure their children feel loved no matter what their differences may be?
Does watching the film make you want to read Solomon's book? What more do you want to know about these families?
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