In Like Dandelion Dust, Barry Pepper and Mira Sorvino star as a youngish couple who have pretty much made all the wrong choices in life. Separated for five years after the alcoholic Rip was jailed on domestic violence charges, the two are reunited upon his release from prison. In the interim, they have both tried to make good choices to straighten out their lives: Rip has given up drinking, and has lined up a decent blue-collar job on the outside. Wendy has managed to keep their home in order... and to protect Rip from himself, she has given up their son for adoption, without even telling Rip that she was pregnant when he was sent up.
Jack and Molly are, by contrast, living evidence of having made all the right choices in life—even in spite of fertility issues. They are a well-off, well-adjusted couple who love each other, have a great support system, an enormous home, and a yacht. Who better to adopt an underprivileged child and provide an enriching and wildly rewarding life? Joey couldn't be happier, blissfully ignorant that he is not Jack and Molly’s natural child. They are the only parents he has ever known.
Rip and Wendy, meanwhile, become convinced that they are now capable of being decent parents... and because Wendy forged Rip's signature on the adoption papers, the courts agree that Rip's rights as a father have been compromised and award custody of Joey to his birth parents. As you might imagine, things begin to go frightfully wrong for all involved.
Ordinary People in Extraordinary Circumstances
As Joey shifts back and forth between palace and noble hovel to ease into his new life, he starts to unravel. Just turning six, he's really not in a place to understand properly what's happening to him—and the well-meaning rock-and-a-hard-place social worker can only help so much. Second-time director Jon Gunn does an amazingly fine job of taking the audience on a grueling tour of despair and tainted joy as neither set of parents finds satisfaction in the arrangement.Instead, Jack and Molly find themselves pushed toward desperate measures as the system seems to illogically side with Rip and Wendy, and the latter couple finds themselves sliding irrevocably into old, destructive habits under the mounting pressure.
I've never read a Karen Kingsbury novel, probably due to my English Lit snobbery. When you study Chaucer, you know, it does things to your sensibilities. So I did not at all expect to find a film scrupulously based on one of her novels to be incisive and even-handed in examining the human condition. Gunn's direction gives equal time to the saintly and sinful traits of both couples—so if you're looking for an indictment here of trailer-park drunks, power-mad millionaires, or heartless bureaucratic drones, you won't find those here. Instead, you're likely to find a moving portrayal of ordinary people put in extraordinary circumstances with tragic consequences as the only likely outcome. If that sounds to you like classic literature, well, it is. And classic literature always makes good film fodder.
Pepper and Sorvino Have Never Been Better
Unlike classic tragedies, though, the story is infused by the optimism of a Christian worldview: yes, people are messed up; but by the grace of God, His power—and the example of Christ's sacrificial selflessness—can help us triumph over our petty and broken human limitations. So the story does have a rather surprising silver lining to its bittersweet conclusion. Pepper and Sorvino, always appealing actors, have probably never been better than in Dust. The film and the actors have been taking home awards all across the festival circuit, and Cole Hauser and Kate Levering turn in worthy performances as Jack and Molly Campbell as well.
I really can't recommend this film enough, even though I found the final act rushed and somewhat contrived. I truly believe that an artform as powerful (and expensive) as film carries an added moral onus—and few films step up to that responsibility as rewardingly and unpretentiously as Like Dandelion Dust.
Like Dandelion Dust is rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements including domestic violence and alcohol abuse. The subject matter is certainly mature, and some scenes of domestic disturbance are likely to intense for children. I don't consider this family fare, unless your kids are all well into their teens.
Courtesy of the film's producers, Greg screened a promotional DVD of Like Dandelion Dust.
What Others Are Saying:
Florida Times-Union: A well-acted drama with a compelling plot. You'll definitely want to see what happens at the end.
Variety.com: An on-the-nose though cathartically emotional melodrama giving Mira Sorvino her most substantial bigscreen role in years and featuring a head-turning performance by Barry Pepper.
MovieGuide: A very poignant movie with incredible camerawork and superb acting.