Review by Sean Boelman
There have been plenty of documentaries about highly specific stories, but filmmakers tend to make them compelling by emphasizing the parts that make them universal. Amanda Liptiz’s Found is one such film, and while it’s an emotional watch, it’s too standard in its presentation to be memorably impactful.
The movie follows three teenage girls who, each adopted from China, participate in a search to discover their roots and find out that they are all cousins. With the increasing prominence of genetic testing services like this, it’s understandable why this story got the feature-length documentary treatment even if it probably could have been a short.
There are some really interesting things going on in the film in regards to the political undertones of the story, but they aren’t fully developed. Lipitz addresses how these events are fundamentally tied to China’s former one-child policy and how oppressive that was to families, but she ignores the greater implications in favor of the more basic human interest angle.
The movie balances all of the different subjects pretty well. The audience gets a glimpse into the personal lives of each of the three girls and how they have come to terms with the various aspects of their identities. It’s pretty standard as far as finding one’s identity goes, but it resonates nevertheless.
It’s also compelling to watch these girls form a connection with one another. The things that the film has to say about family — by birth, chosen, and (of course) found — are really refreshing and poignant. As humans, it’s important for us to connect with one another, and this is an ode to that.
That said, the emotional beats of the movie definitely feel somewhat contrived at times. There are points at which it seems that the film is exploiting these girl’s misfortune for the sake of entertaining the audience. That said, this is mostly an uplifting and happy story, which means that it’s never horribly manipulative.
Lipitz’s directorial style here is straightforward and competent. It’s a bit sad that there isn’t more style here given that her previous documentary Step was so exceptional, but it also could have been much worse off. The story and subjects are compelling enough to speak for themselves, and that’s what makes this work.
Found isn’t the most extraordinary documentary, but it tells its story in an effective enough way. Strong direction and a keen understanding of what makes this story work are what makes this a mostly effective watch.
Found hits Netflix on October 20.
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