Off and Running
It’s strange when a Twitter phenomenon like Shit My Dad Says, which was started by a guy in his late 20s writing down the filthy and irreverent things his 74 year-old dad says, garners a sitcom, especially on a network. It’s stranger still that that network is CBS, known for the most banal and safe programming generally aimed at senior citizens, considering nothing that appears on the original Twitter page could ever be said on network TV. The resulting show could never be more than a watered down standard sitcom, a show that might easily be summed up as “doesn’t my dad say wacky things and isn’t he a lovable curmudgeon?” Such a decision by CBS is confusing, why bother buying the rights to something that Peter Boyle already did on your own Everybody Loves Raymond for 9 years?
This sort of calculated, sterile thinking is how Nicole Opper’s Off and Running seems to have been constructed. Ostensibly a documentary about a black teenager, Avery Brooks Klein-Cloud, adopted by a white Jewish lesbian couple in Brooklyn (Tova and Travis), trying to reach out to her biological parents, the movie goes out of its way to be not just safe, but to wipe away any on-screen conflict. All of the tension that would be natural to this situation, Avery is one of three adopted children in the family (two black, one Asian), is spoken to us via narration or told to us via titles.
There’s a heavily manufactured feel throughout (is that why there are two credited writers for this documentary?), as if Opper and Klein-Cloud wanted to show how open-minded Tova and Travis are, but didn’t want to risk actually showing them in a negative light lest we stop being sympathetic. The result is that these white parents come off as almost apathetic, and they are only saying they care about Avery because the camera happens to be in their face. Off and Running is so careful about being non-judgmental, that it dares you to judge it (“our family nickname is the United Nations”) for being too diverse and multi-cultural. Was this POV chosen so we could chastise ourselves for not accepting someone because they are “different?” It’s a white-liberal guilt sort of stance, suggesting that Tova and Travis had more influence than Opper would like you to believe.
When Avery leaves the house because of her discomfort, nearly drops out of high school, dates an inarticulate dolt as her way of inundating herself into “gangsta” culture (the boyfriend, named Prince, may as well have a signpost on his head that reads: “Slumming”), it’s so carefully crafted and laid out as to remove the inherent drama. Opper would rather return to her titular metaphor, as Avery struggles to become a long distance track star, instead of the more interesting material dealing with her potential rejection from two sets of parents.
As a result, Avery becomes off-putting, simply because she seems like the kind of person who we should find interesting simply because of her background, not because of anything she has to say or offer. In fact, the footage of her older adopted brother, Raffi, writing to his birth parents about his biological brother inheriting fetal alcohol syndrome and syphilis from them (“have you thought about us since our first days in detox at the ICU?”) has more passion and anger than Avery’s forced melodrama. Even though Off and Running is a documentary, Avery only seems interested in her birth parents because the plot requires it.
Off and Running will be released on DVD by First Run Features on August 17th.