‘When We Grow Up’ explores adult children navigating hard choices in life

Featuring a racially diverse cast and filmed by an all-women crew, this movie follows a flawed but well-meaning family after the death of a beloved dog.

This review contains spoilers for the movie “When We Grow Up.”

On the third day of the Citizen Jane Film Festival, “When We Grow Up” screened at Talking Horse Productions. This independent film attracted a full house, the majority of which were women.

The movie was slated for 3:30 p.m., but there was a slight delay due to technical issues. Before the movie started, there was a brief introduction to present director Zorinah Juan and writer, producer and actress Grace Hannoy who joined for the screening.

This heartwarming and comical indie film follows the Barnes family after the death of their beloved family dog. The mother of the family, Holly (Catherine Curtin), is devastated and calls for her adult children to come home. The dog, David, had been very important to her. He was even an integral part of her business, where she offered David as a therapy dog for people who needed one.

Her children — Elijah (Clyde Voce), Maris (Jennifer Tsay) and Louise (Grace Hannoy) — come home in the wake of this news, after each of them encounter complicated personal problems. These problems are ones they decidedly keep as secrets from their parents, excusing their behavior on Holly’s depressive episode after David’s death.

The film proceeds to explore the different issues faced by the three Barnes children. It addresses a rekindled romance between Louise and an ex-boyfriend, as well as her wanting to leave the country to figure out what she really wanted. The middle child, Maris, is struggling to tell her family she is pregnant from artificial insemination after deciding to raise a child by herself. The film also explores some important topics, as it focuses on Elijah’s indecisiveness in trying to adopt a child with his wife Irena (Lauren Lim Jackson).

Elijah’s arc is one that I particularly enjoyed. Since Elijah himself is black, but was adopted into a white family, he didn’t know what ethnicity he should choose during the process of adopting his own children. This raw and direct approach to the racial topic was refreshing. He doesn’t know how a black father is supposed to act, considering he never had one. He worries about adopting a white kid and having them feel uncertain about themselves with two black parents, just like he did. This topic of transracial adoption comes up multiple times during the film, which I found very eye-opening, considering that it’s not an issue that is often talked about in media.

The film also discusses issues of problems within the marriage of Holly and her husband Brian (Mitch Poulos). In this relationship, both sides feel like the distance between them is growing rapidly. There weren’t any affairs or dramas — it felt like an honest portrayal of marriage, and I appreciated that.

With all these heavy topics, the film still maintains a sense of ease and comfort. Since this movie shows the occurrences over a long weekend, it created a very grounded frame and made the film concrete. It was a very down-to-earth movie, without too much distraction from the background music. I found it to reflect reality very well.

After the movie, Juan and Hannoy were invited to the front for a Q&A session. They talked about what it was like to film under the money constraints. They shared that while the average budget for an independent film is found to be upwards of $300,000, “When We Were Young” was filmed with a humble $40,000 budget. The women also discussed how incredible it was to have an all-women crew working on the team when most film sets are typically male-dominated. Juan mentioned that while she really enjoyed the all-women crew, she thought it was ultimately more important to work with a crew that simply just supported the same ideals across the board, such as male allies and like-minded thinkers.

Juan brought up it was very important to her as a Filipino-American to better represent people of color. Hannoy also talked about how transracial adoption isn’t often talked about. They emphasized the importance of listening to other voices from people who have gone through similar experiences like multi-racial adoptions.

Overall, the film was a very heartwarming story about an interracial family filled with diversity, laughter and real-life issues. It navigates the very different problems faced by each of the children as well as the parents very well and ended with a wholesome touch.

Edited by Siena DeBolt | sdebolt@themaneater.com

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