Adult Adoption is a charming, semi-surreal debut that uses the desperate search for a parental figure to emphasise the importance of self-worth.
At first glance, Karen Knox’s Adult Adoption seems to be a film about craving connection, about feeling lonely and desperate for a stabilising ‘parental’ influence. It emphasises the lingering traumas a childhood of being passed from one foster home to another can inflict upon an adult. It emphasises how feeling unwanted, that you’re simply too much or not enough for a ‘forever’ home, can affect the way in which relationships are formed and can manifest into attachment and abandonment issues. But ultimately, this charmingly off-beat debut from writer and star Ellie Moon is a film about coming to terms with self-worth, with realising that a family can often be ‘found’ and non-traditional, and that a stabilising influence can just as easily come from within.
Rosie (Moon) struggles with relationships, be they professional, platonic or romantic. Having ‘aged out’ of the foster care system as a teen, a friend suggests she try looking online for adult adoption services, to find the parents she so desperately craves. After undertaking a bizarre speed-dating-esque ritual wherein she has dinner dates with prospective parents, she meets Jane (Rebecca Northan), a woman who Rosie envisions fitting her carefully constructed ‘mom’ role perfectly. But it doesn’t evolve into the fairy-tale ending Rosie might have hoped, and leads to the discovery that family is what Rosie makes it, and that she might just might have belonged somewhere all along.
There’s a childlike quality to the opening of Adult Adoption, with Rosie’s bedroom being an explosion of pink and the scene depicting her handmaking a glitter-covered card for the retirement of a colleague. It sets the tone that Knox and Moon keep up for the entire film; a surrealist, hyper-reality dreamlike vibe that manages to feel tethered, even as it becomes clear that Rosie is feeling anything but. Her attachment issues and deep-rooted loneliness mean she’s vulnerable, almost immature, despite making a seemingly successful life for herself with a steady job, apartment and romantic endeavours. It’s Rosie’s craving to fill that parental void that drives the film towards its conclusion, the slow but steady growing-up that happens visually as well as thematically, as Rosie comes to realise that her life isn’t as lacking as she thought it was.
It’s a really pleasant debut from Moon, who establishes a unique voice and delivers a really engaging and empathetic – but crucially not pathetic – performance as Rosie. The film’s underlying message is somewhat two-fold: firstly, it’s a rejection of the idea that as an adult, the desire for the stability, comfort and nourishment from a parental figure, regardless of a blood relation, is something to be ashamed of. Secondly, it’s a film that emphasises the importance of cultivating the ability to stabilise, comfort and nourish one’s self.
It doesn’t make Rosie out to be weird, bizarre or something to pity as she clings to the idea of a parent, googles ‘nice things to do for your mom’ and places intense pressure on her relationships to fulfil the roles and function exactly as she has envisioned. It shows her as a human with flaws and the lingering after effects of a traumatic childhood – even if it wasn’t as bad as some of the statistics might have some believe. It shows her as someone realising the competence and confidence to be a successful person exists within her, that it isn’t damaged, but also still struggling with a lifetime of missing that ‘ideal’ figure to connect with.
The final affirmation of Adult Adoption – “I am the creator of my own life, I am my own ancestors” – summarily encapsulates the film’s thematic and emotional throughline. But Knox and Moon also don’t shy away from the realities of loneliness, of struggling with connection and the weight of that parental void. It’s a charming film; an impressive, upbeat debut and a sure sign of interesting things to come from Ellie Moon on the big screen.
Adult Adoption had its World Premiere at the 2022 Glasgow Film Festival on 8 March, 2022, and will be screened again on 9 March.