A Montana high-school football stud grows up to be a stunning transgender lesbian named Kim; her adopted brother harbors a lifelong grudge against his popular sibling. Suddenly, the “slighted” sibling discovers that he’s the biological grandchild of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. Welcome to an outrageous plot twist worthy of a Pedro Almodóvar melodrama, but to paraphrase the title of an aborted Welles film: It’s all true.
Prodigal Sons is also a first-person testimonial, as documentarian Kimberly Reed films every uncomfortable moment with her brother Marc McKerrow, who won’t relinquish their fraternal rivalry even though she’s no longer a man. Welles’s longtime partner Oja Kodar invites them to an idyllic reunion in Croatia, which gives McKerrow a chance to recast his troubled existence and embrace his newfound ancestral fame. Instead, he immediately shames Reed by showing photos of her male past, offering a fascinating glimpse into how self-defining narratives inevitably ensure familial conflict.But instead of pushing deeper into any psychological dilemmas, this dirty-laundry doc gets lost in a sensationalistic flurry driven by a serious emotional unraveling. One particularly violent scene depicts McKerrow’s instability to an extent that robs him of any dignity, with Reed’s narration crowding out his voice. Even when cinematically attempting to heal old wounds, the filmmaker can’t help but have the last word.