Ian Thomas Malone

our father Archive



May 2022



Our Father sheds an important light on the ease of medical misconduct within the fertility field

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

DNA testing companies such as Ancestry and 23andme cater to a base instinct within humanity. Most of us know the natural sensation of wanting to trace back our roots, to learn more about who we are and how we came to be. No one necessarily embarks on that journey of self-discovery hoping to find a bunch of skeletons in the back of their ancestral closet.

There are abstract privacy concerns about handing over one’s literal cells to a for-profit DNA testing company. The documentary Our Father presents a far more horrifying scenario. No one mails in their 23andme kit expecting to learn they have dozens of half-siblings, but a fertility doctor in Indiana probably didn’t expect to have his handiwork traced back to him decades later either.

The documentary centers its narrative on the biological offspring of Donald Cline, a doctor who used his own sperm for years without his patients’ consent, women who expected to give birth to children fathered by their own partners, or donors of their own choosing. Under the guise of his fundamentalist religion, Dr. Cline committed countless acts of sexual assault over the years. Our Father is every fertility patient’s worst nightmare.

Cline fathered over fifty-confirmed children through his insemination methods, with the real number believed to be at least around a hundred. A few serve as the centerpiece of Our Father, namely Jacoba Ballard, who spearheaded the efforts to connect her half-siblings and expose Dr. Cline in the process, both to the media and to the Indiana Department of Justice. An only child, Ballard initially sought out a DNA test to explain the biological anomalies that set her apart from the rest of her family, never expecting the web of lies she’d uncover.

As a documentary, Our Father struggles to balance its fascinating story with some limitations of such a visual medium. The Blumhouse release is guided with an extremely heavy hand, using actors to recreate some events set against a musical score that feels lifted from a horror movie than a serious documentary. To some extent, it’s hard to fault director Lucie Jourdan for not having access to better archival footage to put on the screen, but the film is hardly very confident in its own delivery.

The documentary works best when exploring the human toll of the ordeal on the victims. The American legal system is hardly well-equipped to handle these kinds of sexual assault cases, with only a few states possessing laws on the books to prevent such disgusting medical misconduct. Some injustices can never be made whole. The film does a good job exploring that reality, never trying to pretend like Dr. Cline will ever truly be punished for his actions. The best anyone can hope for is that laws are strengthened to prevent similar misconduct from escaping with little more than a slap on the wrist.

The story is powerful enough to justify the experience, but Our Father hardly does right by the material with its overproduced delivery. The stage pieces and score serve as little more than distractions. There isn’t much here that couldn’t be summarized in a five-minute piece on the evening news, but the victims do deserve to have a chance to tell their story.



March 2021



SXSW Review: Our Father

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Grief has a way of bringing people together who wouldn’t otherwise spend more than a few moments in each other’s company. The loss of a loved one can put one’s own future in perspective, time itself an ever-fleeting concept. Director Bradley Grant Smith centers Our Father in the wake of a suicide, a father’s death reuniting two sisters on very different paths.

The narrative follows Beta (Baize Buzan) and Zelda (Allison Torem) as they search for their long-lost uncle Jerry (Austin Pendleton), estranged from their broader family for over thirty years. Beta is eager to leave town for grad school in Connecticut in an effort to hit the reset button on her otherwise mundane existence. She and Zelda are not close, using their quest to find Jerry as an effort to spend some time together before going their separate ways.

Smith’s worldbuilding largely appears to be the product of trial and error, throwing bits of quirk at the wall to see what sticks. Little of it does. Scene after scene, Our Father tries to frame itself as an oddball comedy, but the writing falls spectacularly flat after the first few minutes.

This dynamic is exacerbated by the relationship between the film’s leading actresses. Smith deliberately positions Beta and Zelda as having no real relationship, kneecapping his intentions to position Our Father as a buddy comedy. The scattershot pacing never consistently makes rectifying this a priority, draining the narrative’s ability to hit home down the stretch.

Smith rarely seems to understand what he wants to do with his characters. Beta and Zelda frequently looked confused, even bored, on their quest, making it pretty hard to relate to any of them. Aside from Uncle Jerry, the male characters are pretty atrociously written, cringe-filled scenes that don’t really serve any broader purposes.

Pendleton is the sole performer who seems to have any idea what’s going on with the material, delivering a powerful scene in the third act that feels completely divorced from the rest of the narrative. That kind of momentum can’t be sustained for long, and the film doesn’t really have a strong enough foundation to produce any satisfying resolutions. The whole thing is a completely disjointed experience.

Our Father feels like the product of someone who knew how to make a movie but didn’t understand how to tell a story. The narrative alternates between being painfully boring or needlessly obtuse. An unfortunate mess.