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The Independent Critic

Kimberly Reed, Marc McKerrow
Kimberly Reed
86 Mins.
First Run Features


 "Prodigal Sons" Review 
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Kimberly Reed is returning home to Montana for her high school reunion.

Hardly material for a full-length documentary, eh?

Reed's return is a return to a world she long ago rejected, a fractured existence of denied self-identity. During high school, Kimberly Reed was the high school quarterback. Now, she's a trangendered woman living an entirely different life in New York as a largely closeted transgendered person whose desire to break from the past is about to be confronted head-on.

Prodigal Sons is powerful and brave filmmaking, the kind of filmmaking that simultaneously irritates those who abhor cinematic self-revelations and personal portraits while deeply moving and inspiring countless others who draw strength and courage from the unflinching and relentless journey that unfolds.

Prodigal Sons most brings to mind 2003's Tarnation, a festival darling and critical fave with its fierce dedication to truth to an uncomfortable degree. The same could be said, at times to an even greater degree, of Prodigal Sons.  Reed's return home is initially and surprisingly trouble-free as her classmates seemingly have little trouble accepting her changes, however, it is when Reed decides to attempt reunification with her long estranged adopted brother Marc that the film and the challenges begin to pick up steam. Marc had part of his brain removed after a car crash and is prone to extreme mood swings and violent outbursts, a number of which are captured on camera.

It is difficult to discern if these scenes were naturally caught on camera and, even moreso true, it is difficult to comprehend the decision to leave them in even recognizing that they are a central part of Marc's life experience and, in turn, they very much impact Reed's experience. These scenes unfold with a rawness and disturbing intensity that makes understandable why Reed had such a desire to connect with this aspect of her life. Yet, on the flip side, it makes Reed's courage even more admirable and undeniable in ultimately deciding to allow the pieces of her life to be put together.

Marc will heal his own self-identity for a brief period after discovering that his birth mother was the daughter of Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles, a rather unusual discovery that somehow feels perfect in the context of this film, yet even this astounding discovery will not be enough to hold Marc's fractured self together for long.

As powerful and revealing as Prodigal Sons is as personal journey, it is even more wondrous that Reed has painted out her own journey with such clarity for others. It is easy to imagine countless others struggling with issues of self-identity watching this film and feeling not quite so alone in the thoughts, ideas, fears, doubts and coping skills. Reed shares with tremendous honesty how she moved from a man who denied the self to a transitioning man who compartmentalized the areas of her life to fit the circumstances and, finally, to a woman learning to find peace in her new identity and her new place in the world.

Stirring and thought provoking, intimate and a work of quiet genius, Prodigal Sons soars with its honesty and captivates with its authenticity and heart.

Having just completed its arthouse and festival run, Prodigal Sons will be released by First Run Features on home video on July 21, 2010.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic
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