Mockingbird Don't Sing
Vanguard // Unrated // $29.99 // May 27, 2003
Review by Don Houston | posted June 8, 2003
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Movie: When I think of the term "wild child", I tend to think of the children of the women I date. I'm not sure if they are trying to drive me crazy, or keep me from getting any from their mom, but they would definitely be considered wild by most adults I know. The actual term, however, refers to a condition where a child is deprived of social contact and lacks the socialization most of us acquire while growing up. That's the basis for the movie, Mockingbird Don't Sing.

The movie centers on a 14 year old girl who had been locked in a dark room by her father since she was about 1 year old. With no television or outside world contact, the child grows up quite different. The mother eventually takes the girl to a social service agency and then the fun begins. After a media circus and trial (neither of which are shown in detail here), the girl is viewed by some experts as a perfect opportunity to prove a standing hypothesis on language acquisition. The movie spent most of it's time following the girl as seen by a young graduate student, played by the lovely Melissa Errico.

The student loses all scientific detachment early on, in favor of her humanity. The two were shown as mutually exclusive for the length of the movie. As the movie progressed, it detailed the girl's growth in an almost, though not quite, documentary fashion. It was an interesting drama, if not wholly tied to the usual concept of a movie having a beginning, middle, and end.

I liked the acting by the young girl (Tarra Steele) and others here. The cast included a number of well known performers, belying it's low (about 3 million dollar) budget, including Sean Young, Kim Darby, Joe Regalbuto and others. The script seemed a natural extension of the real life events that the story was based on and the "realness" shined through. If you want to see a more entertaining version of the wild child concept, look for Jodie Foster's Nell, although it was not as closely based on a real story as this movie was.

I suppose I'd have liked it more if the movie didn't seem to be so much like a generic made for Lifetime special. The director seemed to have the most difficulty in wrapping up the show. He relied on the tried and true method of including a series of "where are they now" written comments at the end of the movie before the credits rolled.

So, if the acting was good and the script fairly solid, why wasn't this a better movie? Well, by omission, the director leaves out some crucial information that would help tie each segment, and the movie seems full of compartmentalized segments, to one another. Some of it has to do with the motivations of the characters and other parts include their backgrounds, both before and after the events took place. Surely it would've been easy to include a bit more about them so their motives were cleared up a bit.

The technical aspects of the movie were not the greatest either. The picture and audio should've been better and it impacts the movie, especially given the cast. Had it been an independent movie with unknowns, it'd be easier to forgive on this score but many of the cast are, or were, quite busy in the entertainment world. This ties in to the limitations of the vision behind the film. Without asking more questions throughout the movie, the viewer is placed in a confined chair, much like the lead character was, due to the director's decision to narrow the scope of many aspects of the movie. He could have expanded on several spots that'd have opened up the ideas presented but didn't.

So, we're left with a moderately entertaining movie that's worth a Rental but could've been so much more. If you're in college taking any psychology classes, you might have an opportunity to watch this one for credit but otherwise, the material is quite depressing. The premise of the original hypothesis, that you can't learn language skills after puberty, has also (thankfully) been refuted to some extent but that doesn't let the director off the hook as to his presentation here.

Picture: The picture was presented in 1.33:1 ratio Full Frame format. The colors seemed muted and the detail lacking much of the time. The grain present wasn't the biggest problem but the sometimes lose of focus (it seemed in a few scenes that the camera used was on auto-focus as it kept moving in and out of focus) was disconcerting. The fleshtones and blacks were not true either and that hurt the picture as well.

Sound: The sound was presented in 5.1 format but almost all the sound came from the front speakers-mostly the center channel-and was in English. There were no subtitles or closed captions. The score was sparse but appropriate with the vocals being clear, if not exceptional vibrant.

Extras: Surprisingly, the extras were solid here which is not typically the case for a movie released by Vanguard. Focusing more on releasing interesting independent films, the company hasn't really pushed directors to think ahead in this sense so any significant extras are appreciated. The extras included a trailer for the feature, a 20+ minute long interview with the original woman who studied the girl (Dr. Susan Curliss), some outtakes, and a director's commentary. The outtakes shed no more light on the movie for me but the interview was interesting-it seemed as though the doctor had suffered from a stroke at some point. The commentary gave some background on the movie and events surrounding it but was full of dead air-a killer for a viewer such as myself. Most of the issues brought up by the director were lightly handled and not helpful as to getting into his mind.

Final Thoughts: Rent this one if you're interested in the subject matter. The true life wild child of the 70's, with some of her difficulties absorbing vocal language, was interesting to me but not more than a filler due to the limitations here. Renting it will be a better value for most people.

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