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Movie Review: Prodigal Sons

The 2008 documentary “Prodigal Sons“ follows Kimberly Reed who is “Returning home to a small town in Montana for her high school reunion…

She hopes for reconciliation with her long-estranged adopted brother, Marc. But along the way she uncovers stunning revelations, including a surprise relationship to Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, intense sibling rivalries and unforeseeable twists of plot and gender that force them to face challenges no one could imagine.” (Prodigal Sons Website)

“NOT ONLY WAS IT A STRESSFUL TIME DEALING WITH THE PASSING OF HER FATHER, BUT DEALING WITH HAVING TO COME OUT TO HER BROTHER, MARC…”

Initially, the film is entirely focused on Kimberly and does a good job getting across the anxiety of returning home and to her family. Not only was it a stressful time dealing with the passing of her father, but dealing with having to come out to her brother, Marc, on top of having to face her old high school friends, including the entire football team. However, the film quickly spirals out of control from there.

I picked this film up because I was under the impression it was about a trans person who had to deal with the people from her past and who she is today. However, very shortly after arriving back home the film quickly derails from being anything about Kimberly and turns into a mini-documentary about her adopted brother. Marc is having some issues with his mental stability which the family must handle, and even seek safety from during some particularly dangerous outbursts. We also detour into the story of Marc being adopted and discovering that he is actually the grandson of Orson Wells and we follow along for an international visit with some of Marc’s new family. Marc handles the entire situation with very little class, but this seems to be equated with his mental complications.

“ONE OF THOSE PICTURES WAS OF KIMBERLY PRE-TRANSITION AND THIS CAUSED HER SIGNIFICANT DISTRESS.”

With a run time of 86 minutes, the film barely touches on Kimberly’s story and becomes almost entirely about Marc. Although, I did find one subject particularly interesting that Kimberly brought up. When Marc, Kimberly, and their mother, Carol travel to visit the Welles estate, Marc started showing his new family some pictures from his youth. One of those pictures was of Kimberly pre-transition and this caused her significant distress. I found it interesting to learn that some find it very difficult to see any pictures from their past and how upsetting and even destabilizing that could become. For me, I always viewed anything in my life to be just one more stepping stone. Pictures of me before aren’t ones I enjoy seeing, but I never felt such a strong reaction against them because they just go to show how far I’ve come along my own journey. This scene really drew me in and made the film refocus on Kimberly, albeit briefly.

Overall, I applaud Kimberly for attempting to document a very emotional period of her life but what was initially intended to be the primary focus became barely a subplot. If you don’t mind killing about an hour and a half it is an interesting family, but don’t get invested thinking this is going to have much about transgender issues as those are only scattered throughout pretty sporadically.

Watch the trailer for Prodigal Sons:

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