The Reel Dad: ‘What Children Do’ shines at Ridgefield Film Festival

Some people simply take air out of a room. And energy out of a relationship.

Not because of what they want, but what they dismiss. Not resulting from how they give, rather how they take. Not due to how they think, but what they fear.

Dean Peterson’s insightful film What Children Do captures how one person can change the dynamic of a room, a family, and a town. This piercing comedy explores how the people caring for an elderly lady react when her self-absorbed granddaughter arrives by surprise. No one knows why this lady named Amy travels cross country to visit the comatose woman. But once Amy arrives everyone is aware she is here. Taking the air out of each stop she makes.

What Children Do is a comedy about “two estranged sisters who are thrust back into each other’s lives by the impending death of their grandmother.”

The feature at the Ridgefield Film Festival on Saturday, May 20, What Children Do deserves to be absorbed for the characters it examines and the relationships it explores. Rather than falling into conventional patterns, writer/director Peterson lets the free-spirited Amy wander through the family trying, with each conversation, to convince herself that her life involves more than it does. When she arrives in town, she resumes her disconnected relationship with the younger sister she dismissed long ago when Los Angeles was the city of dreams. But things haven’t quite worked out. That film career Amy anticipated has become a series of rejections, that lovely apartment she inhabits will soon post an eviction notice. When she visits the grocery store in her town, and frantically opens a box of cereal to eat on the aisle, her actions suggest that, perhaps, this isn’t the first time. The life Amy constructs in her mind becomes less real each time she tries to pitch the premise.

With each situation, Peterson reminds us how, of the people we know, our siblings force us to face ourselves. Perhaps because of what we share, we try to hide. Or, because of what we have in common, we center on differences. As Amy and her sister, Shannon, navigate the prognosis for the grandmother they adore, they try to examine why they so easily bring out the worst in each other. Did they, as children, learn a language that enables them to quickly hurt? Or do they, as adults, look to each other to complete the parts of their lives that feel empty. Peterson sharpens this complexity by adding other relationships. As we see Amy and Shannon interact with men who could matter, at particular moments, we see how some people can only be happy when they make others unhappy.

As a writer, Peterson carefully develops his characters by letting them breathe, mixing moments of natural humor (“I had a panic attack at the Jamba Juice”) with real revelation (“Sometimes it feels like I don’t have a family”) ultimately revealing how the people we love can make us confront the feelings we hate. As a director, Patterson carefully varies the rhythm of his sequences to give the film a natural feel that never resorts to the sense of being staged. He makes it easy for us to get to know these people and the unconditional love they share. With conditions.

In its most touching sequence, Amy takes a late night walk with her grandmother, recalling the connection they experienced. What Children Do shares that, only with our family, can we complete the puzzles of our lives. And, with our siblings, we may find the missing pieces.

What Children Do shows this Saturday evening at the Ridgefield Playhouse as part of the Ridgefield Independent Film Festival. A q-and-a session will follow with director Dean Peterson and cast members. The film runs 1 hours, 27 minutes. Parents should be aware of the use of language and alcohol in the film.

(For more details on the Ridgefield Independent Film Festival, go to

Film Nutritional Value: What Children Do

  • Content: High. This is a thoughtfully created and performed film about the essential relationships we share.
  • Entertainment: High. Despite the seriousness of the family connections, the film is filled with colorful characters who radiate natural humor.
  • Message: High. This meaningful movie reminds us that, when we see ourselves through our siblings’ eyes, we see everything.
  • Relevance: High. Any opportunity to share such a personal film with older children can gives us many things to consider.
  • Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After sharing this film, talk with your older children about what it takes for families to stay connected.


What Children Do highlights movies about siblings


by Mark Schumann

The Reel Dad

The new film What Children Do – showing this weekend at the Ridgefield Independent Film Festival – reminds us of other movies we remember about siblings we can’t forget.

Here are a few of my favorites.


Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman

The Savages (2007)

Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman shine as siblings who try to care for their elderly father. Writer/director Tamara Jenkins focuses on the real issues that may separate people but find families. Both Linney and the screenplay were Oscar nominated.


Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

Dianne Wiest – currently starring on stage in Brooklyn in Happy Days – won her first Oscar for this striking account of sibling rivalry from writer/director Woody Allen. Mia Farrow and Barbara Hershey costar as the sisters all the family must maneuver around.


Marvin’s Room (1996)

This moving account of a woman’s fight with illness brings Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep together in career-high performances. Both actresses leave their familiar personas at home to create complete characters of people who examine care from many perspectives.


Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet were Oscar nominated for their delightful performances as well-intentioned sisters who try to navigate the muddy paths of romance. Thompson did win the Oscar for Best Screenplay for her marvelous adaptation of the Jane Austen novel.


What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Thanks to the television series Feud, this movie is back on the charts as people rediscover its merits. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford radiate as sisters who compete for attention all their lives until there’s simply no energy left. Davis was Oscar nominated.


You Can Count On Me (2000)

Kenneth Lonergan – who won an Oscar this year for writing Manchester By the Sea – scores with this moving examination of the hurt that siblings can share. Laura Linney was Oscar nominated for her breathtaking portrayal of a woman who can’t always look in the mirror.


The Parent Trap (1960)

Walt Disney’s original take on this story about twins surpasses the entertainment in the ill-conceived sequel. Hayley Mills delights in a dual performances as two girls who are separated at birth because their parents can’t get along. Maureen O’Hara costars.


Dead Ringer (1964)

Bette Davis shocks her sister – also portrayed by Bette Davis – in this outrageously entertaining thriller from director Paul Henreid. Peter Lawford costars as a man the sisters confuse. But the scene stealer is a Doberman Pincher with a bad sense of timing.


The Godfather (1972)

No matter why we love this film, its portrayal of sibling relationships remains one of its strrongerst features. Al Pacino, James Caan, John Cazale and Robert Duvall make us believe that the blood these brothers share rules how they react to almost anything they face.


Yes, the movies love to look at sibling relationships.

And What Children Do reminds us how we can cherish the people we grow up with even as they frustrate.