Somewhere Between Reviews
For the Patriot Ledger
It's difficult enough for teenagers dealing with issues of identity and self-esteem. But imagine how much more intensified those feelings are for Chinese girls abandoned by their birth parents and shipped off to America to be raised by white families that are loving but uncomprehending of what it's like to grow up knowing nothing about your blood relatives.
After seeing Linda Goldstein Knowlton's haunting documentary "Somewhere Between," I can tell you that it's heartbreaking. And it would probably be more so were one not as intelligent and self-aware as the four girls we're privileged to meet over the course of a deeply moving film that raises profound questions about the merits of international adoption. But beyond the statistics and tainted moralities inherent to the subject are the actual victims/benefactors of a practice born out of China's abhorrent one-child policy, which was established in 1979 to help confront that nation's rampant overpopulation. And in putting a human face on the issue, Goldstein Knowlton amps up the empathy level to the max.
You'd have to be a stonehearted not to be affected by the girls' struggles to fit in when neither the American nor Chinese cultures fully accept you. As one girl metaphorically states, you're like a banana, "yellow on the outside and white on the inside." In that respect, 15-year-old Fang (pronounced Fong) Lee of Berkeley, Calif., 14-year-old Ann Boccuti of Philadelphia, 13-year-old Haley Butler of Nashville and local girl, 15-year-old Jenna Cook of Newburyport, share the resulting confusion. But it's how they differ in their approach to their dual identities that makes their stories unique. Some are admittedly more compelling, but they all snatch a little piece of your heart.
Structurally, "Somewhere Between" is a bit of a mess, its revelations trite. But, boy, those girls! They really get to you. None more so than the film's fifth wheel, a toddler with bad wheels nicknamed "The Girl in Pink." Abandoned in a Chinese orphanage and afflicted with cerebral palsy, she becomes the cause célèbre for Fang, whom the little girl knows as Big Sister, but loves like a mother. Watching their relationship blossom during Fang's annual trips to China is truly rewarding.
It's also a treat watching the bonds strengthen between Ann and Jenna, as they travel to Europe for a conference on international adoption. While there, Jenna tearfully confronts the demons of self-esteem she's forever trying to outrun. But the de facto star is Hayley, a budding beauty queen with a personality as big as her native country. Throughout, we follow the efforts of her and her devoutly Christian mother to find her birth parents, a search that culminates in one of the most bittersweet moments you'll ever see on film.
It's riveting, as are the movie's more subtle aspects, most notably how much each girl reflects the values of their American hometowns. Jenna, typical of an upper-income New England kid, is athletic and brainy; Ann is quiet and reserved; Fang is a humanitarian and activist; and Haley, a Southerner, is a fan of God, country music and beauty pageants. They are but four of the more than 80,000 Chinese girls who've found homes in the U.S. since the one-child policy was enacted. But in the end, one can't help but think about the thousands of other abandoned children who weren't so lucky. And that's the biggest heartbreak of all.