Written and directed by Mark Vadik, based on the book by Steve Pemberton.
When Steve Pemberton was a kid, he bore the Polish last name of Klakowicz and knew nothing about his birth family. He had blue eyes and otherwise African-American features, which he would later find he shared with his father’s family. Steve was placed in foster care as a toddler for reasons unknown to him, but he later finds out why his parents couldn’t take care of him. Instead, his legal guardians were licensed foster parents who emotionally and physically abused him from age 5 to 14.
As a teenager, Steve started searching for more information about his birth parents at the same time that his school encouraged him to enroll in a college readiness program. His foster mother tried to keep him out of the program, and when he landed in the hospital because of her abuse, she bribed him to keep quiet with promises that she would help him talk to his birth family.
Steve ultimately seeks help from his social worker and is removed from the abusive foster home. He connects with his extended family after figuring out his father’s identity, and then goes on to become a successful executive and father himself.
The film seems to leave out much of the details of Steve’s story and in some ways oversimplifies the workings of the child welfare system. The narration and some of the cinematic choices have a heavy-handedness to them that distract from the film’s plot and what could otherwise be poignant moments, such as when Steve helps his foster father sound out words as they read a manual for cleaning firearms.
Overall, “A Chance in the World” is an uplifting story that demonstrates the power of psychological manipulation and underscores the need for teachers and others to know how to recognize the signs of such abuse. It is also a powerful reminder to not give up on students, especially those who appear to have given up themselves. This film is best suited to teens and adults, and some scenes may be more difficult to watch for those who have experienced the kind of abuse inflicted upon Steve.
“A Chance in the World” debuted in select theaters on May 30, 2018, and featured a live panel discussion with adoption advocates and experts, including The Adoption Exchange.
— Reviewed by Christie Renick