Avery is an African-American teenager from a loving Brooklyn household, but not just any household. Avery is the adopted daughter of white, lesbian Jewish parents who've also adopted two young boys, one of mixed-race and one Korean.
As a child, the differences were of no major concern for Avery. However, as she enters her teen years Avery begins to desire a connection with her ethnic roots and, in turn, becomes increasingly curious about her biological parents. What begins, then, as a heartwarming documentary about an unusual family quickly becomes an incredibly complex, poignant and insightful look at the power of family bonds, our roots and, in the end, the lengths we must go to to create our own identity.
Helmed by Nicole Opper, who'd known the family for years and had been Avery's middle school teacher, "Off and Running" benefits greatly from Opper's nearly unlimited access throughout this journey, "Off and Running" inspires because Opper wisely allows the story to unfold honestly and without an ounce of pretense unfolding onscreen. As Avery begins exploring her roots, the world around her begins to self-destruct as she starts skipping school, becomes at least modestly estranged from her adoptive family and nearly loses her shot at the college track career of her dreams.
Then, with breathtaking simplicity, Avery seemingly dusts herself off and sets out to forge her own identity intertwining everything she has learned.
At times suspenseful and often deeply felt, "Off and Running" is part coming-of-age story and part psychological exploration of both this young woman and the families that tie together her identity. At times feeling like a narrative feature, Opper deftly creates an intimate portrait that reaches across the galaxy with its universal themes of individuality, family and identity. The film's subjects, including the delightful Avery, allow themselves to be exposed with all their genuine frailties and rich humanness.
Tech credits are solid across the board, with kudos going to Daniel Bernard Roumain's stellar accompanying music and DP Jacob Okada's intimate yet vibrant camera work.
Having been on the film festival circuit since September 2009, "Off and Running" has been picked up by First Run Features for a limited indie run through theatres followed by DVD distribution. "Off and Running" is sure to appeal to anyone who has ever struggled with blended family or cultural identity issues, though its universal themes will likely ring familiar to wider audiences, as well.