Picks and Pans Review: About Us: the Dignity of Children
Childhood is real life, not merely the preliminaries. A 14-year-old or even a 4-year-old can have observations as valid, and problems as pressing, as those of an adult. These truths, easily forgotten, are at the heart of this unusual and refreshing special hosted by Oprah Winfrey.
The program consists mainly of a cross section of kids imparting their thoughts to an unseen interviewer, plus three grown-ups—writers Brent Staples (Parallel Time: Growing Up in Black and White), Laura Cunningham (Sleeping Arrangements) and Nicholasa Mohr (Growing Up in the Sanctuary of My Imagination)—recounting formative childhood experiences. There is limited use of dramatic re-creation. Instead, director Merle Worth uses filmmaking technique mainly to provide visual details of early memories. When Cunningham tells of an uncle coming to her rescue at an uncongenial summer camp, we see a tall figure in silhouette, waving jauntily as he strides through a field. These are the pictures that stay in the mind's eye.
About Us would be more effective if Winfrey had confined herself to an introduction and conclusion, rather than inserting anecdotal fragments from her own childhood. Her segments seem grafted onto the film to give it a celebrity imprimatur. But if that's the price for a valuable piece of prime time, we won't complain.