The old debate over nature versus nurture is played for (sporadic) laughs in “Birthmarked,” a satire that’s unable to deliver on a promising hypothesis.
Taking their work home with them, married university professors Ben (Matthew Goode) and Catherine (Toni Collette) set out to prove through the rearing of their three children that no one is a prisoner of genetic heritage.
In addition to their biological son, Luke (Jordan Poole), who they’ve raised to be an artist despite his science-minded lineage, they’ve adopted Maya (Megan O’Kelly) whom they cultivate to be brainy, despite her coming from, as the narrator explains, a “long line of dimwitted individuals.”
Rounding out their family of lab rats is Maurice (Anton Gillis-Adelman), adopted from a violent family but brought up as a pacifist. Along the way Ben and Catherine end up discovering a thing or two about the true nature of families.
Although there’s some amusing stuff at the core of Marc Tulin’s screenplay, which has comedic traces of Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach in its DNA, this Canadian-Irish co-production, directed by Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais, loses its way and, in the process, all three kids and both parents end up sharing the same undesirable trait: The filmmakers neglected to make them likable.
If the soulful Collette and “Downton Abbey’s” Henry Talbot can’t engender audience affection, “Birthmarked” would have to be considered a failed experiment.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Playing: Galaxy Mission Grove, Riverside; also available VOD