Director: Kimberly Reed
Everyone has seen their fair share of dysfunctional families, sibling rivalry and harrowing meltdowns on screen.
Last year’s Oscar-nominated Rachel Getting Married and Wes Anderson’s cineaste fave The Royal Tenenbaums are two memorable examples of damaged characters locked in emotional turf wars with blood relations.
Transsexual filmmaker Kimberly Reed’s maiden project Prodigal Sons covers similar territory with a crucial distinction — it’s all too real.
Reed’s intensely personal documentary begins with her return to Helena in rural Montana to attend her high school reunion, after a 20-year absence. The catch? She grew up and left her hometown as popular athlete and pin-up kid, Paul McKerrow, an identity she was relieved to shed through surgery.
Reed’s mission? To pit herself against any gender pre-conceptions that her family and old friends might have and, most importantly, to build bridges with her estranged brother Marc.
The older McKerrow bears scars of his own. Marc was adopted and had always been insecure about his place in the family. A car accident left him with a part of his brain missing, a heavy-duty pill regimen and unpredictable mood swings, the last of which provides the doc with some of its most searing moments.
The polarity of these siblings — Reed’s discomfort with a past that Marc constantly drags her through — propels the film’s narrative.
The further Marc digs into his personal history — he discovers he is actually the grandson of film greats Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth — the harder it becomes for him and Reed to reconcile.
Reed, also a successful magazine editor in New York, throws plenty of heavyweight issues such as gender, identity and mental illness into the mix. Some of them stick, some don’t.
In the end, Prodigal Sons works best as a heart-on-sleeve portrait of a family picking up its broken pieces and working hard to make it wholesome once again despite the odds.