Donor Unknown (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner02/06/2011

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 78 mins

Heart-warming, mind-boggling and hugely entertaining, this is a superbly directed documentary that's by turns thought-provoking, laugh-out-loud funny and deeply moving.

What's it all about?
Directed by Jerry Rothwell, Donor Unknown focuses on teenager JoEllen Marsh, who has grown up fantasising about the father she never had and decides to track down the man she knows only as Donor 150 through the sperm bank used by her mother, Lucinda. During the process, JoEllen registers on a website dedicated to finding donor siblings, which leads to her finding half-sister Danielle in New York.

However, a subsequent article in the New York Times references Donor 150 and JoEllen soon discovers she has dozens of other half-siblings all over the country, all around the same age. The article is also seen by Donor 150 himself, who turns out to be Jeffrey Harrison, a California beach bum who lives in a broken-down RV in Venice Beach with four dogs and a pigeon with a broken wing.

The Good
The film foregrounds JoEllen's extended family tree and introduces you to Jeffrey early on, so the various revelations don't come as a surprise; instead, the more you get to know Jeffrey, the more you worry about how the donor siblings are going to react when they meet him, since each of them has a very different preconception of their “mystery” father.

Rothwell maintains a decent pace throughout, constantly cutting between JoEllen and a handful of the donor siblings telling their stories and Jeffrey's increasing collection of eccentricities (there's a moment when one of the donor siblings reads a conspiracy theory-laden email from Jeffrey that's simultaneously extremely funny and desperately sad). The film is also packed with amusing details, such as the truth about Jeffrey's dance background or sperm donor Doctor Cappy Rothman's cheerful guided tour of the facility's four Masturbatoriums, though it pointedly steers clear of exploring the various ethical issues involved in sperm donation.

The Great
There are several great scenes, particularly a wonderful montage of the donor siblings excitedly ticking off all the genetic similarities they've discovered; it's actually genuinely astonishing how alike they all are, especially considering they all have different mothers – Jeffrey is clearly harbouring some mighty powerful genes. Finally, the film builds to a powerfully emotional climax that is deeply moving.

Worth seeing?
Donor Unknown is a well made, hugely entertaining documentary that tells a genuinely fascinating story and is both laugh-out-loud funny and deeply affecting. Highly recommended.

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Donor Unknown (12A)
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Content updated: 24/03/2019 17:01

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