The New Yorker

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The filmmaker Ry Russo-Young, who has explored the coming-of-age experience­s of young women in films such as “Before I Fall” and “The Sun Is Also a Star,” now turns her camera on her own life for the stunning three-part HBO documentar­y series “Nuclear Family.” She details her very public and embattled childhood years, in the early eighties, when her mothers—Sandy Russo and Robin Young, a lesbian couple—had to fight to remain her legal parents. Russo and Young enlisted two friends of friends as sperm donors for their two daughters, but never planned for these men to enter their lives as anything more than kindly acquaintan­ces. However, once Russo-Young’s father, Tom Steel, began spending time with the family, he formed a bond with Russo-Young and sued for joint custody. The landmark case became a hotbed of public debate: Should sperm donors have any biological right to their children? What are the parental rights of gay couples? Russo-Young was caught in the middle of it all, and now she processes both the pain and the joy of her complicate­d past through a camera lens. The documentar­y is enraging, engrossing, and ultimately healing. Russo-Young stands with her mothers while grappling with her lingering connection to Steel, who died of AIDS, exhibiting fierce love without ever passing judgment. It is a feat.—Rachel Syme

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