Monday, April 12, 2010

Reel Thoughts: Coming Home

A high school reunion in conservative Helena, Montana is the catalyst for huge revelations in Kimberly Reed’s amazing documentary, Prodigal Sons. Reed’s twentieth reunion marks the first time she has returned to her hometown since leaving and undergoing huge life changes. The film charts her journey reconnecting with her mother and two brothers and trying to reconcile with past rivalries and resentments. Reed does an incredible job of exploring her family’s struggles while shedding light on issues of sibling rivalry, nature vs. nurture, buried homophobia, self-acceptance and reinvention.

If someone wrote a story about the events that occur and secrets that are revealed, no one would believe it — it’s just too far-fetched. If you want to be surprised, read no further. Suffice it to say, Reed was a very different person in high school, the class valedictorian and captain of the football team, and her brother Marc resented her for her success. After suffering a severe head injury at 21, Marc has severe and violent mood swings, which adds a layer of danger to the film. On the other hand, Reed is afraid of how her classmates will react to the fact that she is transgender, and has a girlfriend. Their younger brother Todd moved away to San Diego and came out of the closet. Carol, their mother, is resilient and proud of her children, but she is faced with a terrible choice when Marc’s actions threaten the family.

Reed began the film hoping to chronicle her adopted brother Marc’s experience as he learned of his connection to the immortal Orson Welles and the beautiful Rita Hayworth. She never intended to become a focus of the film, but her story was too insistent to be ignored. How a transgender person accepts her past and learns to embrace parts of her life that she never wanted to remember is so powerful, I wish that Reed could have spent even more time on it. Also, Todd’s story is not explored as fully as I would have liked. Still, Prodigal Sons packs more punch, drama and surprising optimism than most indie dramas could attempt, and you’ll never forget meeting Reed and her extraordinary family.

UPDATE: Prodigal Sons is now available on DVD from

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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