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Case Number 19599: Small Claims Court

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Prodigal Sons

First Run Features // 2009 // 86 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // September 2nd, 2010

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All Rise...

When it comes to prodigal habits, Judge Franck Tabouring used to be a superstar.

The Charge

What if you became someone new?

The Case

Kimberly Reed's Prodigal Sons is undoubtedly one of the most powerful documentaries I've ever seen. As an intriguing tale of a human being struggling to deal with emotional family and identity issues, this film will leave you both speechless and amazed at how captivating unique real-life experience can be when they're properly brought to the screen. Reed's bravery and the success of her film shouldn't be ignored.

The film opens as Reed is on her way home to Montana for her high school reunion. She's been away for a while living in San Francisco and New York, and she tells us she hopes this trip will also give her the opportunity to reconcile with her estranged adopted brother Marc. Kimberly isn't quite sure how her visit will turn out, but what she knows for sure is that it's not going to be easy, especially because everybody in her town used to know her as Paul McKerrow, a talented quarterback.

Not only does Prodigal Sons examine what it's like for a transgender woman to return to her home community, but it also spends considerable time focusing on Kimberly's complicated relationship with Marc, who suffered a severe brain injury in a car crash back when he was younger. Hence, what makes this film so powerful is Kim's ability to completely open up to the camera and closely document her every move during a visit that will force her to deal with sibling rivalries and confront the challenges provoked by her transsexuality.

Prodigal Sons proves that witnessing true drama is always more heartwarming and shocking than most of what we see in the fiction genre. This movie is a complex insight into the life of a woman unable to completely get rid of her past as a man. The more we learn about her family, the more we can relate to her situation. Her relationship with Marc is incredibly fragile, and his mental state makes it impossible for him to control his feelings and avoid sudden outbursts of anger. Marc and Kim used to attend the same grade, and Marc never really had the chance to come to terms with his brother's sex change, which explains in part why their reunion is no walk in the park.

In one way or another, Marc becomes the focus of the film, with Kim trying everything in her power to display courage and get along with him the best she can. The tension between the two certainly accounts for a solid dose of deeply moving and shocking moments spectators may find hard to watch. On the other hand, that's also the appeal of watching real life unfold on the screen. Kim either carries her camera herself or has someone follow her around, but no matter how you look at it, her technique and way of telling her story immediately pulls us right into the middle of her predicament. Watching Prodigal Sons really is a fascinating experience.

As I'm typing this, it's been several months since Kim's brother Marc has passed away (he died shortly before the film's DVD release). This obviously raises the importance of this movie, particularly because it paints a dramatic picture of a man suffering from an injury that has stopped him from reaching his goals in life. Additionally, it also follows Kim as she helps him dig deeper into his biological heritage, an investigation that interestingly enough connects him to Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. This is just another compelling twist in a film that manages to continually surprise us.

The film's production values are minimal, and Kim primarily used a simple HD camera to document her journey to Montana. Still, the picture quality on the DVD is more than satisfying, and the image is sharp throughout. Sound is decent as well. The DVD also includes a bonus section featuring several informative Q&A specials with Kim and her family. These provide more insight into why Kimberly decided to launch this project and how the film progressed.

Prodigal Sons is a strong experiment, and it succeeds on every level. First and foremost, it helped Reed confront some of the issues that have been giving her a hard time, and that alone is the perfect reason to watch this film. It's a bold, heartwarming and at the same time revealing experience that addresses important real-life issues we all have or may have to deal with at one point in our lives. It's a human story deserving our utmost respect and attention. A must-see.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 94

Perp Profile

Studio: First Run Features
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• Q&A Sessions


• IMDb

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