Somewhere Between

Somewhere Between movie poster
Critic rating:
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MPAA rating: NR
Genre: Documentary
A documentary about adolescence for Chinese girls who were adopted from China and brought to the United States.
Starring: Ann Boccuti, Haley Butler, Jenna Cook, Fang "Jenni" Lee
Director: Linda Goldstein Knowlton
Running time: 1:34
Release: Opened Oct 12, 2012
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Editorial Review

Stories shine, not filmmaking
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, October 12, 2012

Any coming-of-age tale is a testament to the difficulty of adolescence. It’s a time when most people hunt down their identities and figure out where they fit in. Linda Goldstein Knowlton’s documentary “Somewhere Between” demonstrates the additional stress for teenage girls who were adopted from China and brought to the United States.

As Knowlton explains at the beginning of the movie, she and her husband adopted their daughter, Ruby, from China. The first-time filmmaker began the years-long process of interviewing, filming and editing as a way to understand the identity issues her daughter may someday confront. Since China enacted the one-child policy in 1979, tens of thousands of Chinese babies, mostly female, have been given up and hence adopted by foreigners. Knowlton interviews four such girls.

The four subjects live in Massachusetts, Tennessee, California and Pennsylvania, and all are remarkably well-adjusted for any teenager, much less one grappling with issues of abandonment and fitting in. They all seem to be good students, and each one has a number of other talents, ranging from figure skating to color guard, playing violin to pageantry. One goes to the Phillips Exeter Academy; another plans to be the first Chinese woman to play at the Grand Ole Opry. There is a sense, though, that among these four likable subjects, a couple of the stories are more compelling than the others. It might have served the film better to pare back the quantity of interviewees in favor of a deeper look at a couple of narratives.

One dominant thread involves an impressively articulate young woman named Fang who remembers her abandonment. Her 20-year-old stepbrother took her by bus from her village to a nearby city and left her on the sidewalk, saying he’d return, but he didn’t. She was 5 years old. Remarkably devoid of bitterness, she channels her energy into traveling abroad and helping a Chinese toddler find a home despite the fact the young girl has cerebral palsy. This story is one of the most emotional, especially when prospective parents travel to China to meet the little girl, demonstrating one couple’s seemingly superhuman capacity for taking on challenges.

Another teen, Nashville resident Haley, travels to China to find her birth parents and succeeds, which leads to a tearful and thought-provoking reunion. In one sense, her birth parents are ecstatic to see their estranged daughter. But there aren’t many apologies. Haley’s birth mother has clearly come to terms with her decision.

This moment would be a perfect opportunity to check in with Haley’s adoptive parents, who accompany the teenager on the journey. How do they feel about the birth parents, who both abandoned Haley, but also provided the Nashville couple with a lovely daughter? Knowlton, curiously, lets the opportunity pass.

That’s one example of how the film feels like a somewhat oversimplified narrative filled with superficial glimpses. It’s a testament to the human stories, not the filmmaking, that some moments unleash a deeply affecting drama with a high potential for tears.

Contains nothing objectionable. In Chinese with English subtitles.