Thaddaeus Scheel/Samuel Goldwyn Films
Vietnamese orphans in the documentary “Stuck.”
An unabashed sales pitch for international adoption, Thaddaeus Scheel’s “Stuck” aims for the heart much more than the mind. And while it’s hard to concentrate on systemic problems when faced with the rotting teeth of an adorable Vietnamese orphan, it’s those very problems that require our most intense scrutiny.
Borne along on Mariska Hargitay’s warm narration, the film accompanies two American couples and a single woman on their journeys to adopt children from Ethiopia, Haiti and Vietnam. Mountains of paperwork and red tape roadblocks unite the would-be parents with sympathetic senators and a harried State Department, but the real barrier is supply. For a variety of reasons the flow of available children has been slowly drying up, leaving applicants with ever-higher hurdles to clear.
These bureaucratic woes are interspersed with visits to third world orphanages, where tykes languish on makeshift cots and rock pitifully in their own embrace. Thriving adoptees pop up at regular intervals to confess how thrilled they are to be in America, while excerpts from a Harvard study of Romanian orphanages hammer home the dire consequences of an institutionalized childhood.
This is all very moving, but it’s also all about the potential parents and the assumption that removing a child from her homeland is always the best option. Scant attention is paid to the serious and legitimate concerns that cause governments to pull back from a process as exhausting as it is expensive — though applicants without the resources of Madonna and Angelina Jolie can take comfort in the availability of equally needy options much closer to home.