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After the recent Supreme Court decisions in favor of gay marriage, several documentary films take on added timeliness. One of the most affecting documentaries shown at this year’s Outfest, Two: The Story of Roman & Nyro, reminds us of the variety of families that may be affected by the Court’s rulings. This film directed by Heather Winters chronicles the relationships among two gay dads, their twin sons, and the surrogate mother who has become a part of their extended family. Those who declaim against this kind of unconventional family may be silenced—or at least flustered–by the universality of the feelings celebrated in this stirring doc. The film is making the rounds at gay film festivals but would also be a natural on public or cable television.
Desmond Child and Curtis Shaw are a Nashville-based couple who have been together for 22 years. Child is a well-known songwriter and producer who has written hits for Jon Bon Jovi, Ricky Martin and Katy Perry, among others. Shaw started out working as an actor but never achieved the success he had dreamed about. Although the film doesn’t go into great detail about their relationship, it does imply that Shaw’s career disappointments may have played a role in their decision to embrace fatherhood. They happened to meet Angela Whittaker on a trip to India and enlisted her to bear their child.
Some of the film consists of footage originally shot by Dee Nichols to document Whittaker’s pregnancy and the birth of her twin sons. The camera was in the hospital at the birth and follows the boys’ growth over the last decade. They emerge as relaxed defenders of their unusual family and as irresistible camera subjects. But all of the characters—including the parents of Desmond, Curtis and Angela—contribute to this multi-layered portrait. And the film does a shrewd job of exploding the idea that there is such a thing as a “normal” family. Desmond reveals that he only discovered the identity of his real father late in life. His mother had an affair while living in Latin America, and the identity of his father was concealed from him for many years. The film implies that these family secrets and complicated sexual histories may be more widespread than is generally believed. (Sarah Polley’s excellent recent film about her unconventional family, Stories We Tell, verifies this point of view.)
Although the film does not reveal everything we want to know, it conveys quite a bit of information in its brisk, 71-minute running time. There are a few missteps. Sometimes the voice-over commentary falls into platitudes, and the syrupy music that accompanies the childbirth scene is a bit overbearing. But director Winters earned the trust of all the participants, and her sensitivity produces an enlightening and heartening look at the new normal in childrearing.
Director: Heather Winters
Producer-writers: Curtis Shaw Child, Heather Winters, Desmond Child
Executive producers: Curtis Shaw Child, Angela Whittaker, Desmond Child
Music: Andrea Remanda, Deron Johnson
Editor: Lennon Nersesian
No rating, 71 minutes
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