A Daughter, 'Off And Running' In Pursuit Of Herself

Avery Klein-Cloud

On Your Marks, Get Set: Avery Klein-Cloud is the daughter, the sister, the track star and the co-writer of Off and Running — but the film doesn't quite go. First Run Features hide caption

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Off and Running

  • Director: Nicole Opper
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Running Time: 75 minutes

Not rated: adult conversations

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Avery Klein-Cloud has three mothers — two adoptive parents and the woman who bore her — and that's just one of the many ways her offbeat but engaging family differs from the Leave it to Beaver model.

A high-school track star, Avery is an African-American girl adopted by a white Illinois woman, Travis Cloud, who now lives in Brooklyn with her partner, Tovah Klein. Klein, an Israeli, had separately adopted Rafi, a mixed-race boy; later, the Brooklyn household added Zay-Zay, a younger boy who was born in Korea. And whether the kids are practicing robotic dance moves or lighting the Friday-night Shabbat candles, the family dynamic is the most interesting aspect of Off and Running, a documentary that illustrates some of the perplexities that sometimes come with being different.

Director Nicole Opper first encountered Avery and her moms when the girl was 10. (She was her teacher, which the movie doesn't mention.) Then the filmmaker met the rest of the clan, and "I was given a glimpse of my own future, as a gay person who wants to adopt."

Avery Klein-Cloud, Zay-Zay Klein-Cloud, Rafi Klein-Cloud i

Culture Club: Avery and her two brothers, multiethnic Rafi and Korea-born Zay-Zay, were raised in their moms' Jewish faith — a fact that befuddles Avery's new black friends when she recites a Hebrew prayer at the dinner table. First Run Features hide caption

itoggle caption First Run Features
Avery Klein-Cloud, Zay-Zay Klein-Cloud, Rafi Klein-Cloud

Culture Club: Avery and her two brothers, multiethnic Rafi and Korea-born Zay-Zay, were raised in their moms' Jewish faith — a fact that befuddles Avery's new black friends when she recites a Hebrew prayer at the dinner table.

First Run Features

Off and Running offers more than a glimpse, but not enough more. Halfway through the film, the rest of the family drops away as Avery withdraws from Travis and Tovah. It's not all that surprising a development — teens will be teens — but the split does present a quandary for Opper's narrative. The director worked closely with her subject, a smart and spirited girl who's credited as the film's co-writer, and though Avery's voice-over commentary effectively explains her frame of mind, it's no substitute for dialogue with other family members.

The crisis that drives Avery away from Travis and Tovah begins with her biological mother: After much hesitation, Avery writes to the woman. She fears she won't get a response, but does; it just isn't the one she wants. Her mother offers some information — including a birth name that's far from "Avery" — but not much validation, and the girl slips into a funk, a mood that's complicated by new black friends who playfully call her an "Oreo."

"I felt so out of place around black people," Avery laments. When she invites some schoolmates over for dinner, she baffles her guests with a Hebrew prayer. Gradually, Avery's distance from her parents becomes literal, as she starts sleeping at friends' houses rather than coming home. With her brother Rafi now away at college, Avery turns to a new confidant, a boyfriend.

Travis and Tovah, Avery suggests, are threatened by her contact with her birth mother. Yet the one moderately tense conversation among the three of them doesn't support that theory: The women eventually show some anger, but it seems to be mostly because Avery is risking her education and her future as a runner. These disagreements would be more vivid if they emerged in family interaction, and the documentary loses momentum when it shifts from direct conversation into secondhand she-said, she-said mode.

Off and Running poses some interesting questions, and will intrigue viewers with a special interest in blended families and adolescent upsets. But the film would be much more compelling if its essential conflicts had been captured on camera.

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