When We Grow Up is a well-crafted comedy recounting a long weekend during which the death of the family dog causes members of a dysfunctional family to reunite and realize the importance of their relationships.
A number of issues among the family members surface during this peculiar weekend: a sense of estrangement from one other, anxiety and moodiness. Yet the director presses the gas pedal on wit, despite the characters' melancholy sentiments.
The story unfolds in a house where each character’s secrets and flaws are slowly confronted. The three kids’ emotional fragility and maladjustment jeopardizes this traditional American unit. Louise, the only biological child, doesn’t take well to her mother’s controlling ways, which lead to catfights and scenes of adolescent solipsism similar to those in the coming-of-age film Lady Bird. Maris, another daughter, chooses to have a baby using artificial insemination. Elijah decides to adopt a baby.
The family members try hard to recognize that their pet — though loved — was just a dog. But it was the dog’s death that brought the whole family together. One of the more memorable moments in the film is the heart-on-the-sleeve talk between Maris and Elijah on the porch swing; wrapped in a beige blanket, they both recognize the importance of each other and that their family is important and “not irrelevant.”
In a Q&A session after the film, Grace Hannoy, the film’s producer and writer, and Zorinah Juan, the film’s director, mentioned the movie’s unconventionality, explaining that the film was created by an entirely female crew, a group that wanted to address topics like racial adoption and the redefining of the traditional American family. When We Grow Up does this with honesty and finesse.