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Review: Documentary ‘Far From the Tree’ movingly captures the highs and lows of parenting kids who are different

Andrew Solomon, left, and Howard Solomon in the documentary "Far From the Tree."
(Sundance Selects)

Many parents of special needs children are familiar with Emily Perl Kingsley’s essay ”Welcome to Holland,” which reassures despondent moms and dads that just because they prepared to take one kind of journey with their child doesn’t mean that they can’t enjoy another.

Kingsley is prominently featured in Rachel Dretzin’s documentary “Far from the Tree,” based on Andrew Solomon’s best-selling book about the relationship between parents and kids who are “different” — autistic, for example, or gay like Solomon, or incarcerated for a heinous crime, or diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome like Kingsley’s son Jason. And one point the film makes is that just because your story is inspirational, it doesn’t make your daily life easier.

“Far from the Tree” is in no way discouraging. Dretzin invites viewers to spend time with the differently abled and their mothers and fathers, to give a fuller sense of both the highs and lows.

The results are highly affecting. When Dretzin spends a weekend at a convention for little people, where they forge bonds they can’t always find elsewhere — or when one couple describes how a therapist helped their profoundly autistic son communicate — it’s impossible not to be moved.

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But this documentary also clarifies how its subjects’ stories extend beyond both the breakthroughs and the moments of incomprehensible devastation. This is a powerful movie about human nature and how no matter where we end up — and who we end up with — we wake up each day and adjust.

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‘Far from the Tree’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

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Playing: Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles

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