Film Review: Misconception

This doc offers a wealth of important information, but sometimes couches it in a too loaded and sometimes inappropriate style.
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There are so many ways to worry about overpopulation, from the constant threat to the planet’s natural environment, to the sense that there are just too damn many people everywhere you look. By the year 2050, the world population, now over seven billion, will rise to about nine billion. Jessica Yu’s doc Misconception addresses this worrisome topic in a fractured fashion that enlightens as much as it annoys.

Along with the expected talking heads, led by TED Talks star Prof. Hans Rosling, Yu’s big statistician get who commandingly frames her film, she breaks her presentation into three accounts of lives led by Bao Jianxin, a single Chinese man turning 30 in Beijing and facing family pressure to marry; Denise Mountenay, a pro-life activist from Canada, and a journalist named Gladys Kalibbala in Kampala, Uganda, who devotes a column to helping children find the parents who abandoned them.

Bao’s story, photographed by esteemed documentarian Lixin Fan, is the most compelling and is perhaps familiar to Yu as well, as a Chinese woman. There’s the issue of China’s one-child policy, the outrageous dearth of women compared to men—with 118 males to every 100 females being born—as a result of male favoritism and never-ending, intense parental expectations. Not helping his situation are his impossibly high standards when choosing a mate, his tactlessness (as when he tells an understandably ex-girfriend that she is overweight), and the growing independence of Chinese women, who are now sometimes choosing to forgo marriage and child-rearing altogether. All of this conspires to make Bao yet another of China’s so-called mate-less “leftover men,” the number of which is already staggering.

Kalibbala’s work is indeed inspiring, in a country of 35 million with the third-highest birth rate in the world, where the lack of access to education and basic health care is beyond alarming. And if every film, even a supposedly “even-handed” documentary, needs a villain, Wu finds one in Mountenay. Having always regretted aborting a child at 16, and then being—surprise!—born again, she journeys to the UN to protest global expanding access to reproductive services, all the while handing out candy and plastic fetuses in gift bags to all takers.

Throughout all this serious stuff, Nick Urata’s intrusive music score is an undeniable liability, tirelessly attempting to yank audience responses, especially in the Mountenay sequence, where it becomes cartoonishly antic in the most heavy-handedly ironic way. This critic once heard Edward Albee say he wished movie music didn’t exist at all, and while I found that too sweeping a statement, films like this—especially documentaries—which overuse it make me think the playwright had a point.

It’s all frankly depressing, but Rosling offers words of hope when he says that there are misconceptions, in that overpopulation is actually not happening in most countries, the overall number of children born annually since 1990 has not increased significantly, and ever-increasing education and outreach have been effective in curbing the Earth’s numbers.

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