Making the Grades
At first glance Wendy and Rip Porter (Mira Sorvino and Barry Pepper) and Jack and Molly Campbell (Cole Hauser and Kate Levering) don’t have anything in common. The Porters are poor and struggling, and presently separated while Rip finishes serving a seven-year jail sentence in Ohio for beating Wendy while under the influence of alcohol. The Campbells on the other hand are wealthy and happily established in a Florida estate home where they lovingly dote on their only child Joey (Maxwell Perry Cotton).
It isn’t until Rip is released from prison determined to start a new and sober life that Wendy makes the confession that connects the two couples. Shortly after his conviction for drunk and disorderly conduct the battered wife discovered she was pregnant. Because of their circumstances Wendy didn’t feel she was in a position to be a good mother, and she was sure her husband was not ready to be a proper father. Without his knowledge, she arranged to give the child away. The young boy is now the Campbell’s son.
When Rip learns he is a parent, he is determined to get his child back. Promising Wendy the family they always dreamed of having, he pressures her into helping him appeal the adoption process. Their case moves quickly over any potential legal hurtles because (according to the script anyway) he never signed any papers.
The news that the birth parents can repossess their son after six years is completely unexpected for Jack and Molly. At first they seek advice from lawyers, then the help of congressmen and eventually resort to begging, bribes and threats—all to no avail. The Campbells only choice is to follow the instructions of their caseworker (L. Scott Caldwell) by preparing Joey to meet the Porters and transitioning him into their custody over three visits.
The movie tells the stories of all four of these grieving parents who yearn to call Joey their own. And it is not hard to get caught up in the emotions of each—even when these desperate adults sometimes succumb to childish, reckless and illegal means to increase their claim to the boy. Meanwhile, caught in the middle of the tug-of-war is a youngster whose whole world will be redefined no matter what the outcome.
Although this is a story about children and families, parents should be aware that the occasionally gritty film contains some mature themes, such as adoption issues, alcoholism and physical abuse. Depictions of concern include a child’s lost sense of security, along with drunkenness and angry altercations that lead to violent acts and injuries. Characters caught in difficult circumstances justify breaking the law and some pass religious judgment on others’ choices. Yet the movie, which is based on a book by Karen Kingsbury who penned the novel while going through the adoption process herself, offers interesting insights into some serious moral dilemmas. Like dandelion dust that blows free in the wind, perhaps one test for determining real love versus selfish desires is a willingness to let go of the object of one’s affection.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Like Dandelion Dust.
How does the script build sympathy for both sets of parents as they battle for the right to call Joey their son? What things does each of them do that jeopardizes their claim? What motivates their actions? What would you consider doing if you were in similar circumstances?