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REVIEW: Prodigal Sons

Our critic disagrees with the raft of rave reviews

Prodigal Sons: Rates a C-.
Courtesy photo

I can’t recall the last time a documentary came out that didn’t get raved reviews. Critics love to praise them.

Prodigal Sons is getting rave reviews (last I checked, it was at 90 percent on Rotten Tomatoes).

I usually go into documentaries kicking and screaming, and leave praising them. I can’t do that with this movie.

It was interesting enough. And I didn’t feel like I wasted an afternoon watching it. I just think it could’ve been so much better and so much more interesting. This felt like a Dateline I could’ve watched on TV.

The story involves three sons. One of them isan architect here in San Diego, who is gay.

The other, who made the film, was the basketball hero and high school quarterback of his Montana school. It starts with him going back to his 20 year high school reunion – as a woman. The surgery is complete, and he went from being the good looking blonde valedictorian, to being an attractive middle-aged woman that you would never be able to tell was a man. He was voted “most likely to succeed”…and when I heard that, I immediately thought of those games they play at reunions. I would’ve liked to have seen them give out those awards, and have her win for “who has changed the most?”

Oh, and there’s Marc. He’s not just the third brother, he’s the one the movie ends up being about.

He was in a car accident when he was 21, which left him with a surgery that removed part of his brain. It makes him hard to deal with. And a lot in the film leads us to believe that he was probably difficult before the car crash.

He was adopted, and during his search for his real mom, he finds out she was the only daughter of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. He sees her for the first time at the funeral, in her casket (this wasn’t shown in the film, merely told to the audience).

With that type of news, and these types of stories…the viewer should’ve been more enthralled.

There was such a build-up for Kimberly attending her reunion, and we find out what a lot of people would probably find out when they expect society to just hate them for being fat, a different color, or gay – that most people really don’t care.

Sure, there was one woman that was tipsy, and tried to figure the whole thing out. She actually had a legitimate question. If Kimberly (who showed up with her female lover) liked women, why have a sex change?

Other times, Kimberly was so sure that everyone pointed and stared. At a high school reunion, sure. They do that even if you haven’t had a sex change, but merely wore an ugly dress.

When the siblings fly to Croatia to meet the longtime lover of Orson Welles, she gets mad at Marc for showing pictures of the family when she was male. She’s convinced the people making a Welles documentary were laughing at her as they spoke in their native tongue.

Who knows what they were laughing at? Maybe the cameraman said “Wow, she’s pretty now, and was good looking as a man.” Maybe he told his friend, “I would’ve never recognized this as the same person.” Kimberly immediately jumped to being defensive.

It reminded me of an episode of the Tyra Banks Show when she wore a fat suit, and claimed everywhere she went people stared at her. She showed video from hidden cameras, and I didn’t see it. Two guys glanced at her, but who knows…one of them might’ve been thinking “She’s pretty. She looks like a heavier Tyra Banks.” Not one person was rude to her or said anything inappropriate. And they didn’t to Kimberly, either. That’s great. It makes me feel better about our society. It just makes for a less interesting documentary.

As she says in the movie about her brother (in what many found a powerful line, but I felt was a bit contrived): “I felt like Marc would have given anything to be the man I would have given anything not to be.”

I would’ve liked for this film to give us more about Todd (and not just because he’s a local). And the sibling rivalry with Marc isn’t as interesting, since he’s on so many medications (I did find it extremely odd that many in the theatre laughed when he went on one of his rants. This is a sick person, people. It’s not Jack Black doing some wacky comedy).

After seeing the movie, I asked Kimberly Reed if she was shocked her high school was so warm and embracing. She said, “Yeah, that was a little surprising.” She went on to tell me more about the experience that didn’t make the film, before saying “I guess it helps when the football team is on your side.”

Since she mentioned going to film school, I asked if documentaries are the direction she wants to take her filmmaking.

“Yes, definitely. I have a script written that was based on my life, but then I ended up making this documentary. I don’t know if that movie will ever be made, but I find documentaries to be more interesting. I have two more projects in the works now.”

There were enough interesting scenes that made me enjoy the film. Nice shots of Sky Country Montana; a cute older woman at the reunion taking her photo with Kimberly, and showing a photo of them at a dance in eighth grade when all her friends were envious that she was the one he asked out.

There are just so many great documentaries that have come out recently…Bigger, Stronger, Faster; Anvil, King of Kong, The Cove, Spellbound (not to be confused with the Orson Welles classic)…I’d tell someone to rent one of those movies first.

And speaking of Orson Welles, his grandson reminded me of Welles in Touch of Evil. Not just his look, but the vile things he sometimes said to his family members.

I’m giving this movie a C-.