LA Film Festival Review: ‘Thank You For Coming’ Squanders Interesting Premise

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What would you do if one day you found out your father wasn’t your father? That instead, you were conceived via a sperm donor decades ago? This is the central concept behind “Thank You For Coming,” a new documentary that chronicles a woman’s search for her biological father. There’s a curiosity that is somewhat contagious as the search begins. However, the cheeky title promises more than the film delivers. It’s a more straightforward fare that could use the bawdy panache the title possesses.

Documentary filmmaker Sara Lamm finds out well into adulthood that her father is not her biological father, and she was conceived through a sperm donation–a fact that the doctor told her mother to keep hidden. Armed with this newfound information, Lamm embarks on a journey to find her biological father. Along the way, she gains new insights into the business of sperm donation and how many people in her situation use family tree services to trace their lineage.

It’s a bit unfair to compare this to Sarah Polly’s “Stories We Tell,” one of the strongest documentaries in recent memory. However, looking at that film illustrates the main point where “Thank You For Coming” trips up. “Stories We Tell” lets us watch Polly’s family life come under fire as she uncovers these startling revelations about her biology. Lamm relies heavily on voiceover to dramatize her personal feelings throughout the journey. However, rather than enlighten us on what’s going on in her mind, it halts the film’s progression and comes off quite bald and flat.

The film works best as Lamm researches the sperm donation business and what someone like her mother went through in the 1970s. Lamm visits a sperm bank and illustrates how donations are stored and transported. Perhaps the most interesting subjects are Jennifer, a woman who may be Lamm’s biological half-sister, and her mother. Jennifer has traversed this path with great vigor. She houses countless family tree possibilities and has been eliminating possible donors through heavy analysis of her DNA. With Lamm’s mother passed, Jennifer’s mother becomes our window into what it was like to receive sperm donations in the 1970s. In many ways, these women are the real source of interest in the documentary. We watch Jennifer search for her biological father just as much as we watch Lamm do the same. However, Jennifer’s perky,  driven nature seems less rehearsed and more authentic than Lamm’s constant narration.

Late-in-life revelations and journeys to discover biological ancestors are the building blocks for a great story. “Thank You For Coming” is interesting during many stretches. However, there are many instances where the personal story at the center fails to spark the way that it should. As a piece on sperm donors, there are some interesting elements the film explores. Yet, this information is always presented as context to Lamm’s journey at the center of it. Overall, the documentary doesn’t amount to much more than a slightly involving personal story.

“Thank You For Coming” premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival. For more Los Angeles Film Festival coverage, visit the Festivals section.

Grade: (★★1/2)

Please let us know what you thought of “Thank You For Coming” in the comments.