Dramatic focus creates awkward film

    “”My Flesh and Blood”” is an uneven documentary that has multiple stomach-churning moments and instances where images on the screen force audiences to look away. The documentary’s original purpose was to follow Susan Tom as she cared for her 11 adopted children who all have severe physical or mental disabilities, ranging from cystic fibrosis to mental handicaps. In the end, the film loses focus on what good Susan is doing and goes for shock value.

    Courtesy of HBO/Cinemax Documentary Films
    Guardian

    The star of the documentary isn’t Susan, but her adopted son Joe Tom, who has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and cystic fibrosis, both of which took center stage during the filming. In the opening, Joe tells us he is going to kill one of his sisters, which creates a disturbing emphasis on Joe’s hatred rather than Susan’s kindness. Susan herself can be seen as a supporting figure of the film because she isn’t very interesting once the initial shock of 11 children living in her house at once wears off.

    As with many documentaries, the camera is unsteady, but it is tougher on the eyes to witness some of the disabilities that afflict the children. Seeing burn scars from an injury in infancy makes one wonder how a child is able to survive. Learning about another’s struggle with a disease in which the body doesn’t produce enough collagen to hold itself together is a reality check on personal health and fortune. While the film may be intended to give Susan credit for dealing with these tough situations, the actual disabilities shown are disturbing and lead to neglecting Susan’s role.

    Some parts of the movie are able to convey appreciation for Susan without the visual shock. Seeing that a ³slow week”” for groceries costs $600, or showing days when she has multiple kids in the hospital at once shows her courage. These instances are sprinkled throughout the documentary while the intense moments that rarely involve Susan flood the majority of the film.

    While Susan should be applauded for her work, this voyeuristic documentary is overly focused on specific children who give the film its drama. Four of the children are given the most screen time, and the other seven are rarely seen or heard except when commenting on one of the “”stars”” or when the camera is panning a room.

    The stories told here are moving, but the film itself seems to stray from its original intent. It has a great premise, but is narrow in its depiction and needs to broaden its scope to include the entire house.

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