After Jenna MacFarlane and her biological parents ceased contact, she sought the family unit she always wanted… so advertised for one. As her story is turned into a film, she speaks to Dorothy Herson about her extraordinary life
On a Sunday morning in January 2005, readers of the North Carolina newspaper The Charlotte Observer opened its classifieds section expecting to see the usual assortment of Dyson updates and sectional sofas. Instead, they were presented with an ad posted by 43-year-old Jenna MacFarlane. It read: “Healthy, self-supporting, loving woman w/o family, seeking adoption by mature parents. Seeking to give/be accountable to a supportive family group.”
MacFarlane grew up in Los Angeles with her biological mother and father and two younger brothers. Things began to deteriorate when she hit her teens: her parents estranged themselves from their families, and instructed MacFarlane and her brothers to do the same. MacFarlane sparked further discord by maintaining communication with her grandmother and, at age 33 and following prolonged familial struggle, she and her birth parents ceased contact. “I knew in my heart that they would not open up to me,” the now 61-year-old tells me over Zoom from her home in North Carolina. “Particularly my mother. There was no hope. She was a talented artist and a wonderful storyteller. But she just didn’t want her children around, and I knew that.”
MacFarlane’s story is now the basis for a new film called Adopting Audrey, starring Jena Malone as “Audrey”, a fictionalised version of MacFarlane herself. Directed by M Cahill – who previously explored complex family dynamics in the Michael Douglas-starring 2007 indie King of California – the film is slow and dream-like, forgoing spectacle for moving snapshots of human life. Audrey’s story, like MacFarlane’s, is one of quick thinking and quiet endurance. I can’t pay rent? I’ll live in a van. My family don’t want me? I’ll find a new one.
As dramatised in the film, MacFarlane’s newspaper ad was answered by a woman who ended up changing her life. She still has the letter today, and pulls it out for me over Zoom and reads it aloud. It came from Karen Kesler, a benefits coordinator married to a retiree named Steve. They’d lost their respective spouses years earlier and were now in the process of setting up a blended family. Their own children had met one another, and now they wished to adopt. – Independent