At the beginning of the documentary, “Off and Running,” Avery Klein-Cloud seems like just your regular, average Brooklyn teen. She’s a pretty, athletic, self-assured African-American teenager. She’s a top member of the Erasmus High School track team with the prospect of college scholarships in her future. She comes from a happy, stable family, comprised of two white Jewish lesbian mothers (one called Mama, the other called Imma) and her two adorable brothers–both also transracially adopted, her stoic Princeton-bound older brother looks mixed, the younger one is Korean and irrepressibly cuddly. But everything goes awry when Avery seeks out her birth mother, a decision that takes her on a path far, far from smooth.
All the issues I expected that you read about transracial adoption were addressed. When an Asian therapist who is also a transracial adoptee asks Avery if she feels black, Avery responds dumbfounded but poignantly, “I’m not sure what that means.” Avery talks about how her skin color made her Jewish classmates in school assume things about her that weren’t there. She explains that she was really just like them, raised with white Jewish parents. But it’s clear at a reunion that these former classmates see her as being different and exotic and that race is issue discussed with notable discomfort for everyone involved.
Avery has little exposure to African-American culture until she moves from Jewish day school to the New York City public school system for high school and the film explores this extensively. But it’s clear that while Avery feels like her parents don’t understand how her “black side,” her black Christian friends don’t get her either. These friends don’t quite know what to make of Avery’s Korean little brother or her lesbian mothers. In Avery’s home, at practice, these friends offer prayers to Jesus that make Avery clearly visibly uncomfortable. Avery seems most comfortable, most at peace, with a close friend, a transracially adopted Latina, and her brothers.
The story takes an unexpected downward spiral when Avery’s birth mother responds in an unexpected way that throws Avery’s entire family, especially herself, for a loop. What on the surface seems like typical teenage rebellion is quite obviously depression and a cry for help at a time of particularly heavy emotional turmoil. But whatever you call it, it is quite painful to watch as Avery’s happy life falls apart and she finds herself “off and running” from her support system.
As a complete outsider to the world of transracial adoption and the happy families, I wonder how an insider will see this film differently. For me, there were many moments in the film, particularly towards the end, when I wished someone, anyone, her parents, her older brother, her timid boyfriend would shake Avery back to herself and make her realize that in her search to “find herself” and where she “really comes from,” she nearly loses everything…especially herself. When Avery finally reaches this realization by herself, it feels like too much has been lost already.
“Off and Running” Movie Review (NY Post, 1/29/10)
“Off and Running” Movie Review (Forward, 2/2/10)