ADOPTING AUDREY – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

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You can’t choose your family … but what if you could? That’s the premise behind the drama Adopting Audrey, which sneaks up on viewers with disarming tenderness.

Writer-director M. Cahill (King of California) deftly captures the many emotions of family dynamics from the opening moments we meet Audrey (Jena Malone) in a medium closeup, her head bowed, shoulders quivering. Is she … crying? Laughing? It’s impossible to tell—until she sits up, doing both.

Audrey works as a customer service rep at a call center in the small upstate town of Saugerties, New York, but she’s not skilled at dealing with people. Instead of collecting past-due payments, she’s more likely to ask someone how long they’ve lived there—and if they’ve ever thought of leaving.

Switching jobs and housing is something that Audrey does often, or as she puts it, “The wheels come off every now and again.” She also forgets to pay her own rent and utilities. Although she phones her parents regularly, she seems more comfortable leaving them messages instead of talking with them, especially her mom, whose voice sounds curt and tired.

One night on the smartphone she keeps charged like a lifeline, scrolling through cute and silly pet videos, she finds ads for adoption: adult dogs at first, then adult people. Videos promise a connection with “your forever family.” Enticed, Audrey signs up.

She soon meets Sunny (Emily Kuroda, Kimi), a kind woman who never had children and remarried Otto (Robert Hunger-Bühler, Money. Murder. Zurich) after her husband died. A retired aeronautical engineer, Otto is a bit of a pill, spouting scientific facts and meticulous opinions. Yet he’s not without compassion, and something about his demeanor and Audrey’s clicks, setting up an enjoyable if complicated relationship.

Malone (TV’s Goliath, Lorelei), who also serves as an executive producer, is a pro at navigating Audrey’s thorny emotional territory, and the banter between her and Hunger-Bühler forms an amusing chemistry that feels both natural and affectionate.

“You are sane, approximately,” he notes after meeting her.

“As sane as you are,” she replies.

Otto has trouble bonding with his two adult children (Will Rogers, Dispatches from Elsewhere, and Brooke Bloom, The Surrogate), who don’t know what to make of this potential “adoption,” considering Audrey’s parents are still alive. Adopting Audrey has few specifics about what triggered their estrangement, although Audrey’s quirks offer clues. The animal videos she watches take up the film’s screen occasionally, an escape into playful puppies and whale songs.

As Audrey spends more time with Sunny and Otto’s family, she realizes how all unhappy families fall into ruts of bitterness and regrets. Adopting Audrey presents no convenient solutions, only honest emotions and gentle humor as Audrey recognizes enough baggage to reconsider her own patterns.

We all crave connection and wish for do-overs, which makes this “adoption” process so appealing. But sometimes it’s better to make peace with the past—and find not a new family but friends.

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Valerie Kalfrin

Valerie Kalfrin is an award-winning crime journalist turned freelance film writer whose work appears at RogerEbert.com, In Their Own League, Script, The Hollywood Reporter, and other outlets. Also a screenwriter and script consultant, she’s passionate about challenging stereotypes about gender and disability. Let’s tell better stories and tell stories better.