The new film "Like Dandelion Dust" may be based on a book by an evangelical author, but you won't find in it an overtly Christian message or the typical struggle between good and bad.
The independent film is more sophisticated and nuanced, avoiding clichés that oftentimes make Christian films flop. There are no easy answers to tough questions and the bad guy is not so bad while the "good" Christian is not so good.
Based on the book by New York Times bestseller Karen Kingsbury, "Like Dandelion Dust" tells the story of two families from polar-opposite worlds whose lives collide over a six-year-old boy named Joey. Joey's biological father, Rip Porter, was just released from prison after spending seven years behind bars for beating up his wife, Wendy, while under the influence of alcohol.
Rip wants to turn his life around and be a good husband to Wendy, Joey's birth mother, now that he has given his alcoholism the boot. After he rekindles his relationship with Wendy, he finds out about Joey, the son he didn't know about and who was given up for adoption while he was in prison.
As Rip was unaware that he had a son and Wendy forged his signature on the adoption papers, officials side with the biological parents and say the adoptive parents must return Joey to the Porters.
The drama begins when the adoptive parents, the Campbells, are told that they must return Joey, their only child, to the Porters.
In contrast to the Porters, the Campbells, Jack and Molly, seem to be living the American dream. The film's opening scene shows Joey and the Campbells sailing in their yacht, laughing and basking in the sun. Later, the family is shown interacting in a stable environment, where Joey seems to be flourishing under the loving care of his adoptive parents.
Although the Porters are portrayed as a dysfunctional family, actors Barry Pepper (Rip Porter) and Academy Award-winner Mira Sorvino (Wendy Porter) play out their characters in such a way that viewers cannot simply write them off as a violent alcoholic and a heartless mother.
Several times in the film, Rip becomes violently angry and physically abuses both Wendy and Joey. But at other moments he is gentle, funny and genuinely repentant of his past mistakes. Rip does not fit neatly into the stereotype of alcoholic wife-beater.
Wendy, meanwhile, is the heart and soul of the movie. Her love for Joey is clearly seen in how she protects him from Rip and her ultimate decision to let him go for his own good. Her character forces the audience to grapple with the question of what love is – holding onto someone until the end or letting the person go.
One of the most interesting yet easily-overlooked characters in the film is Aunt Beth Norton, the sister of Molly Campbell. She is one of the few overt Christians in the film and the most vocal about her faith. But out of all the characters, she is also arguably the most detestable.
At a critical part toward the end of the film, Beth makes a decision that could result in the Campbells losing their son and going to jail. While some could say her decision was simply made in poor judgment, a critical look at the conversation between Beth and her husband reveals how her lawful thinking blinded her from seeing the core purpose of the law – to protect Joey.
The exchange between the Nortons pricks the conscience of Christians, likely forcing many to question whether their sometimes or often-times righteous attitude and lawful thinking has actually done more harm than good to the cause of the Gospel. It also challenges viewers to question if following the law is always right, or if there are situations where it is more Christ-like to break the law.
There are no black and white characters and no perfect solution in "Like Dandelion Dust," produced by Downes Brothers Entertainment. Instead, the film promises to pull at the heartstrings while churning the gears of the mind as viewers struggle to determine what is right and wrong.
Our Rating: 3.5/4 stars