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Movie Review

Who's your mother? Who's your father?

It's amazing how such a simple question can be so complex.

Six-year-old Joey Campbell knows his mother and father. They take him sailing, sing him songs, help him write words for his crayon-drawn books. They've loved and cared for him since he was a baby, and he loves them like no one else. When you're 6, after all, your parents are practically your whole world. You trust them to take care of you, to protect you, to tell you everything's going to be all right.

But then, one morning, a nice stranger comes to Joey's house and takes him away. You're going to visit some new friends, the nice stranger tells Joey. They can't wait to meet you.

And so Joey meets Rip and Wendy, who welcome him into their home as if he was their own. They show Joey the room they've made up especially for him and the tree house they're building in the backyard. They're really nice friends.

Then, one night when Joey says he's afraid of taking showers, Rip gets mad, grabs him and tosses him in the shower, clothes on and all. That's confusing and terrifying enough, but Rip proceeds to tell Joey that he is Joey's real daddy, and that Wendy is Joey's real mommy.

Joey's mommy—the woman he always thought was Mommy—is a thousand miles away. And Joey's daddy—the man he always thought was Daddy—isn't around to tell him that everything's going to be all right.

Two mothers. Two fathers. And one boy, standing in the shower with cold water streaming down his face, mixing with hot tears on his cheeks.


Positive Elements

Like Dandelion Dust is a harrowing but ultimately uplifting look at an adoption gone horribly wrong. Joey's birth parents exploit a problem with the paperwork to pull their birth son back, while his adoptive parents struggle to keep him. "Somebody's got to lose," Rip tells Wendy. "It's not going to be us this time."

But though these two sets of parents are adversaries, neither are villains here.

Jack and Molly Campbell, Joey's adoptive parents, are the very picture of devotion. "Joey is our whole world," Molly says, and she means it. And when it looks as if the legal system will try to pry him away from them, they do everything in their power to keep their son—particularly after learning that Rip, a convicted felon recently released from prison, might hurt him. Some of their efforts are, in themselves, problematic—and we'll note that later. But their love for their little boy and their desire to save him? Any parent can understand the heart behind their actions.

Wendy and Rip have their own story to tell. After Rip was sent to prison (apparently for beating Wendy), Wendy gave birth to their baby boy and selflessly chose to allow another family to adopt him. But she never stopped thinking about Joey, or loving him. And when Joey steps back into her life, she too proves to be a loving, loyal mother. She relishes every moment she spends with the boy, and shows a sincere interest in doing what's best for him.

Even Rip—violent, alcoholic Rip—wants to do the right thing. He shows himself to be a changed man when he leaves prison. He tells Wendy that she did the right thing, putting him away. He desperately wants a son—perhaps, in part, because he sees that son as a way to redeem himself. "It could be that new life we talked about," he says. "He could be the new me." And when he learns he actually fathered one, he throws a great deal of effort into fixing up their house and making the boy feel at home. Rip isn't some cartoon ogre. He's a well-meaning man whose fractured past gets in the way of his future.

Rounding out this intimate tale is Allyson Bower, a harried social worker ordered to pull Joey out of an obviously loving home. She bears angry verbal shots from the Campbells, doing her job with professionalism and grace. She warns Wendy and Rip that their desire to reclaim Joey may not be the best thing for him. And when circumstances spin ever more out of control, it's this social worker who turns into the hero, pulling these torn threads of family together to weave a satisfactory—if not altogether painless—conclusion.

Spiritual Content

Like Dandelion Dust is based on the book by Christian author Karen Kingsbury. And while this isn't being pigeonholed as a Christian film, solidly spiritual themes find their way to the screen.

Molly's sister, Beth, is a Christian who cares deeply about Molly, and is concerned about her sister's lack of faith. Sometimes she goes too far, appearing to badger Molly about it. When Beth asks if she can start taking Joey to church with her family since Molly isn't going, she adds the zinger, "Don't you think it's important that he's raised with good values?"

Later, Beth invites Molly, Jack and Joey on a missions trip to Haiti. Molly eventually accepts the invite, a decision that delights Beth. But when she begins to think—rightly, it turns out—that Molly's using the trip to run away, keeping Joey out of the clutches of his birth parents, Beth calls Allyson and turns them in. Beth's husband, Bill, who is also a Christian, thinks it's the wrong move. "You don't get to decide what God's will is," he says. "The courts are wrong. … What else is this trip for if not to save children?"

Is Bill right to stand as a buffer between Molly and the law? Is Beth right to intrude in such an invasive way into her sister's decisions? The movie doesn't really insist either way. But it certainly forces viewers to chew over what they might do in a similar circumstance.

One more semi-spiritual note: Wendy engages Joey in a bit of childlike magic—telling him to wish upon a dandelion. "When you blow on it, that wish can be set free," she says, "and it can come true."

Sexual Content

Rip angrily ask Jack why he adopted Joey in the first place: "No bullets in your gun?"

Both sets of parents express marital affection, sometimes tenderly touching, sometimes desperately holding on for dear life. Rip and Wendy are shown in bed. (He's shirtless. She's propped up on his chest.)

Violent Content

Jack and Rip fight. Jack winds up on the ground, coughing and gasping for breath after getting kneed in the gut and thrown into a parked car. We see his bruised and battered face a bit later.

When we first meet Wendy, we see her cowering in a corner of the house, apparently after one of Rip's beatings. Shortly thereafter, friends bandage Wendy's arm as her husband struggles to free himself from the police dragging him away.

Seven years later, a kinder, gentler Rip returns. When his dog bites him in the face, he shrugs it off. When Wendy tells him he became a dad while in jail, he sits quietly. But after his parking lot confrontation with Jack, Rip starts to slip back into bad patterns. He breaks a bottle of whiskey. He hits Wendy in the face, sending her sprawling. And he hurts Joey when he forces the boy into the shower, leaving a horrid-looking bruise on his arm.

Elsewhere, guards point guns at Molly, Jack and Joey.

Crude or Profane Language


Drug and Alcohol Content

Rip is an alcoholic. When we first meet him, he's obviously drunk. (And a whiskey bottle rests on a nearby table.) After seven years of sobriety in prison, Rip had hoped that he'd kicked the habit for good. But after he and Jack fight, he buys another bottle of booze. The film suggests that most of Rip's problems stem from this one root cause.

Rip also smokes—but this habit he seems disinclined to kick. Rip and Wendy spend an evening at a saloon.

Other Negative Elements

Jack tries to bribe Rip into giving up Joey—offering the man $2 million to walk away from the situation. Molly and Jack decide to break the law and leave the country with their son.


Like Dandelion Dust is a hard movie to watch. Not because it's a bad film—quite the opposite, in fact. It's a moving, well-acted piece of cinema that if set down in the middle of 20 or so high-end Hallmark tearjerkers, it would gobble up two or three of them just for breakfast.

But it tackles some very sensitive subjects, particularly for those who've been touched somehow by adoption. Because for any adoptive parents, the idea that a child could be taken away in such a brutal fashion preys upon their darkest fears.

"I'm very concerned about the impact of this film," says Kelly Rosati, head of Focus on the Family's Wait No More and Orphan Care initiatives. "It's particularly heartbreaking to me because I think they meant to do well. They meant to do something positive for the cause of adoption, and I fear that unintentionally they're going to do just the opposite."

It's extremely rare for adoptions to be overturned in this manner, she says. And even given that, the idea of a child spending unsupervised time with another set of parents—particularly one with this sort of background—would be all but impossible. "I could probably go find two or three child welfare experts who would call that child abuse the way it's portrayed in the movie," she says.

Rosati also takes issue with how sympathetically the birth parents are portrayed. "The movie somehow manages to get your sympathies around the idea that this boy is [Rip and Wendy's] blood. He belongs to them. He's their property. And in a way it reduces children to chattel."

And yet the film ends with Joey's birth mom voluntarily giving up her son—for the sake of his best interest, and her husband's. So there's real power in this presentation. My own sister was adopted into our family when she was 2 months old: I still remember when my parents brought her home. My wife was adopted, too. Neither of them have, in my eyes or theirs, "adoptive" parents. They have parents, period. Being a parent is about changing diapers and singing lullabyes and setting curfews and attending soccer games. The biology of parenthood, then, to me, is secondary. And the premise of the film—the idea that there's a question as to who Joey's "real" parents are—feels foreign.

But that foreignness somehow makes it all the more stimulating and challenging, because watching Like Dandelion Dust gave me a glimpse of the other side of the equation. And, for once, the equation being explored isn't a black-and-white moral one like so many are at the movies. I'm not being asked to explore the dark side of a serial killer. I'm not being led into the middle of a prostitution ring. I'm being asked to grapple with what it looks like for a parent to be a parent.

Maybe not every Jack and Molly has a Rip and Wendy, but some do. Both families are flawed. Both families hurt. And they don't agree about what's best for their little boy or girl.

Posted on author Karen Kingsbury's website is a letter written by a mom who put her children up for adoption several years ago. She was in the process of trying to get them back when she started reading Dandelion Dust. "When I read your book, I sat down and cried and cried and cried, even worse than when I placed my beautiful babies so long ago," she wrote. "I realized that there was no way I could take them out of a loving home and put them with me. There was just no way. Thank you for writing Like Dandelion Dust. It not only brought me to the Lord, but it made me see that I was still worth something even when I failed at being a mother."

But choosing adoption isn't a failure. It's a gift too precious for words. This movie helps confirm that which we already know: Such precious gifts should never be taken for granted.

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