All families are a complex system of relationships. Of those relationships, the strongest bonds are often between parents and their offspring. Far From The Tree presents a handful of examinations on these types of familial relationships.
The documentary centers these stories around the author's experience that informed his book of the same title. Andrew Solomon is a gay man who grew up with parents who did not accept this. They believed he could be cured and while they loved him, never took him as was. This left a hole in Solomon who began to study how families operate under extreme divides between parent and child.
Documentarian Rachel Dretzin divides the film into segments on different families. There is a forty-something-year-old man with Down Syndrome who receives love and encouragement from his mother. His parents led an awareness movement to convince the public how capable their son is. A young man with autism fights to communicate with his parents who don't understand his outbursts. A twenty-year-old with dwarfism lives a sheltered life with her mother. There is a segment on a family who has to accept the life-long imprisonment of their son.
This structure offers a few problems. Mainly it can be seen as reducing each unique situation into a homogenization of shared experience. However, Far From the Tree balances this with stirring testimonials that make us feel each situation differently. The insights about how parents struggle to understand their kids and how the children deal with that are quite an achievement. There is a powerful sentiment of love throughout each story. We hear and see first hand how compassion among families can connect parent and child when external and internal forces challenge their relationship.
Far From The Tree will make you feel good about the power of families. It is a refreshing approach but one that robs the film of a counterpoint. I would have enjoyed Dretzin showing at least one family that can't get beyond its dysfunction. Still, the film hits with an emotional punch and feels particularly relevant in 2018. This documentary has some of the same joyous qualities that made Won't You Be My Neighbor such a cathartic experience. Perhaps with a little more effort, Far From The Tree could have been as memorable.