- Directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton
Approximately 35,000 Chinese girls have been adopted by American families since 1985 (reference). Linda Goldstein Knowlton, herself the new mother of an adopted Chinese daughter, follows the lives of four now-teenage adoptees to discover how their split Chinese and American identities work out. Her uneven film is often flat, and skips over a lot of issues, but has moments of sublime grace.
Full disclosure: I have two adopted Asian daughters, one of whom is from China. My wife knows one of the girls featured slightly .
Somewhere Between does little besides glide along for the first half of its 88-minute runtime. We meet the girls, all of whom seem surprisingly well-behaved and well-adjusted for teenagers of any nationality. Some of them have had to deal with the occasional stupid, racist remark, but they all seem capable of shrugging that off.
Much more interesting are the abandonment issues they all have to deal with. China instituted a one-child policy in 1979, and a great many couples desperately wanted that child to be a son. Thus, parents gave up their daughters to orphanages, and eventually to Western parents. It’s not easy knowing that the mother that bore you rejected you because of your gender.
But the picture really takes off in the second half, when it latches onto two amazing stories. One of the film’s subjects, Fang Lee (who is, by the way, local), visits a Chinese orphanage and falls in love with a baby suffering from cerebral palsy. Over a period of years, Fang helps the little girl from a distance and in visits to China. Eventually, she helps arrange for an American family to adopt her.
The other amazing story involves Haley Butler, who wants desperately to find her birth parents–something that’s considered almost impossible. Through detective work on various visits to China, posters with her baby pictures, and eventually DNA testing, she succeeds. The reunion is both amazing and joyful, and sad. To meet her birth mother is to confront her own abandonment.
These scenes hit you on a gut level, and will make Somewhere Between worth seeing for many people, but the film barely touches many aspects of adoption. You learn nothing here about the organizations, email lists, and summer camps that nurture both the adoptees and their parents, and help the girls know more about the culture they were born into but probably don’t know. Nor does the film address the many adoption problems, such as birth parents who see their abandoned and now Western children as a source of income.
Knowlton’s upbeat approach shouldn’t surprise anyone; she says right at the start that she made this film for her own, very young adopted daughter. But her choices limit the picture’s scope. She made an affecting documentary, but she could have made an intelligent one.