Tuck, Munch, and Alex are junior-high friends who have big plans for their last night together. Their neighborhood is about to be evacuated for the construction of a bypass. The loss of their neighborhood is significant to each boy, because each of them feels somewhat displaced. Tuck is overshadowed by his older brother and has also moved to Nevada from New York. Munch doesn’t make friends very easily. Alex is a foster kid, who Tuck says “has been moved all over.” All three of them are about to be moved away from their homes, and away from each other. Recently, their cell phones have been acting strange, displaying unusual designs. The boys decode the designs as a map, and decide to spend their last night together trying to discover what is causing the phones to act strange. They follow the map into the desert, and one character admits that they are scared. While exploring, they see a faint light and discover Echo, a scared, tiny alien who just wants to go home.
This movie is relevant to foster care because, well, Alex is a foster kid. He’s been moved around from home to home. He fears abandonment – and even gets into a fight with Tuck when Tuck abandons him – and is also brave, loyal, and good. A true sadness of foster care shows up when Alex is getting ready to move. Tuck enters his room and remarks that his room “looks how it looked before you packed – all of your stuff fits in one box.” He then asks Alex jokingly but insensitively, “What are you, a drifter?”
Alex is a great example of a positive character in foster care. He has strength and weaknesses, and the experiences he has had in foster care both give him vulnerabilities and newfound strengths. Alex is not portrayed as helpless or as heroic. He is a good kid who happens to be in foster care. He fears abandonment because of what he has experienced, but he is loyal, brave, forgiving, and dependable. Alex is also the first of the boys to reach out and connect with Echo. The joy on Alex’s face when he realizes that Echo is trusting him and communicating with him is priceless. Alex teaches Echo how to use slow breathing breathing to self-soothe himself while he’s scared. Alex also refuses to leave Echo behind when Echo is in danger of being caught; he explains, “I know how it feels to be left. I’m not leaving him. I know how it feels. We’re all he’s got.” At one point, the boys are faced with a decision – to take a huge risk and allow Echo to return home, or to play it safe. Alex is the first one to move towards sending Echo home. As Echo prepares to leave, Alex tells him, “I don’t really know how to say goodbye, so I’m not going to. I’m your friend. Even when you think I've forgotten.”
Alex isn’t the only character impacted by an impending loss of home. Tuck is shaken. He explains, “You feel like your own person with your own friends, and then something like this comes along and you have no power to stop it because you’re just a kid.” Even Echo is lost and wants to get home.
Tuck expresses the film’s message right before the end credits – that kids can do anything; that they’re not powerless. But what I see as an even more pronounced message is that foster kids, while having real issues, challenges, losses and sadness, can be the bravest, most loyal, most forgiving, and most dependable of their peers, and they can turn their experiences outward into kindness to help others in similar situations. There are some sad and scary moments in this film, and so it should be pre-screened by parents of kids under 7, or parents of kids who have unresolved grief about loss or peril. However, this is a very positive film – especially, I think, positive for kids in foster care. I give it a high recommendation for foster families with kids between the ages of 8-14.