When you’ve already done BioDome, Son in Law, and a guest appearance on one episode of Sunset Tan, where do you go from there?
Faced with this artistic dilemma last year, Pauly Shore chose Africa. Mostly, he went for a vacation. But once there, traversing the arid desert plains and breaking bread with the indigenous peoples, inspiration struck. “Me and the producer came up with this idea of me adopting an African child,” he said the other day, by phone. The rest is a few weeks of hasty mockumentary filmmaking history and a straight-to-DVD June 15 release.
“Do you want to focus on the dead birds in the Gulf or do you want to focus on the stuff that’s off-camera, where kids are playing and everyone’s having a good time?”
Shore storyboarded the entire film in his hotel room, and a casting agent sent along a few “orphans” for the shoot. Adopted follows the comedian’s efforts to procure an elementary-school-age son or daughter, with the goal of having someone “who’s gonna take care of me when I get old.” In the course of the film’s 80 minutes, Shore auditions three young candidates, picks up a woman on a park bench, and attempts to purchase a blood diamond.
It may seem like a facile, boneheaded conceit—a shameless, unfunny knockoff of that “O.J.” bit from Brüno, and, as a send-up of Hollywood’s international adoption fever, at least two years late—but, as Shore tells it, the film’s purpose was not just entertainment but also education.
“If you look at the media, what does the media show Africa as?” he said. “They show a lot of negativity. Do you want to focus on the dead birds in the Gulf or do you want to focus on the stuff that’s off-camera, where kids are playing and everyone’s having a good time? Once I got down there [to Africa, not the Gulf], I got to see how beautiful it really was. Yes, there are really bad parts, but there are also some really fun parts. There are great restaurants. The food’s really good. People are really nice.”
Shore sought to reflect Africa’s fine dining and cheerful populace in his film, while also finding laughs in the vast cultural gulf separating the African continent from the supporting actor in Encino Man. In one scene, Shore hops on a bus full of African men and mistakes them for the Boston Celtics. In another, he goes into a traditional healer’s shop and asks the proprietor if they sell babies there.
The film business has a long and spotty record when it comes to adoption stories, mining the subject for horror, as in 2009’s Orphan, or laughs, as in 2007’s Juno. Adoption got its first truly nuanced portrayal in last month’s Mother and Child, a movie that looked at three fictional adoptions and how their attendant stigmas and secrecies affected the women and children involved.
Coming on the heels of both that film and Sandra Bullock’s heartwarming mid-divorce baby-surprise last month, Adopted provides an alternate view, marrying a profound mischaracterization of the international adoption process with the subtlety of such Shore productions as Why Men Go Gay in L.A.
The comedian did not intend his film to be a crusade against high-profile celebrity adoptions or a piercing satire of the way some stars merge adoptive parenting and PR. Pauly Shore is not a polemicist, after all. But he has spent a lot of time thinking about the children.
“I think celebrity adoptions are a good thing because at the end of the day, these celebrities, and non-celebrities too, are giving these children a better life than possibly the life that they had,” he said. “I wouldn’t say financially but maybe, you know, well maybe financially as well. Maybe a lot of these kids—they don’t have the clothes and all that stuff. So they go with an Angelina or a Madonna, and they put them in nice houses and all that.”
As adoption evolves in the public consciousness—from something to be ashamed of into something to broadcast on the cover of People magazine—Shore’s contributions to our collective enlightenment likely will be minimal. But, aside from giving Africa a new face not often seen in the “media,” his aim for Adopted is more modest.
“At the end of the day, is it entertaining or not?” he said. “I got a text message from my friend Chris the other day, and he said he saw it thought it was, like, really funny.” Whether the DVD-viewing audience will agree remains to be seen. But, as ever, there’s one guarantee: “It’s Pauly Shore movie,” he said. “You know what I mean?”
Rebecca Dana is a senior correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former editor and reporter for The Wall Street Journal, she has also written for The New York Times, The New York Observer, Rolling Stone, and Slate, among other publications.