In early 1960s Chicago, newborn baby Paul Fronczak is taken from his mother’s hospital room and vanishes. Months later, a toddler with a black eye is abandoned in Newark, New Jersey. His foster parents call him Scott, and local police are astonished when no one comes forward to claim a missing child. Recalling the snatched baby in Chicago, they do the math and send little Scott to Chicago, where his parents reclaim him, restoring the name Paul, and immediately burying the disturbing truth of his disappearance. Paul doesn’t even discover that he was kidnapped until he’s 10, and his mother quickly shuts down any follow up questions.
Middle aged now, and with a child of his own, Paul once again attempts to open up this mysterious chapter of his life. This time he’ll circumvent his parents and follow the trail of his birth and disappearance down some fascinating paths – fascinating to us, anyway; understandably it would be much more difficult to be questioning your own heritage and provenance and identity.
Director Ursula Macfarlane does an excellent job of setting up an improbable premise and then guiding us down its many fantastical twists and turns. It’s such a cliché to say something is stranger than fiction, but truly you couldn’t get away with such an incredible story if you were writing it from scratch.
Unfortunately, this documentary isn’t as tasty or as satisfying as you might think. It’s certainly packaged like a true-crime doc worth devouring, but it’s got several major ingredients going against it. First, the re-enactments are a little amateurish, and feel like they’re just adding bulk to a thin serving size. Second, if you’re already familiar with the story, there aren’t any big bombshells to make this worth your time. The few new details push the boundaries of relevance. Third, the story is frustratingly unresolved, the loose ends dangling tantalizingly in front of us just begging for closure. And finally, the biggest problem is with Paul himself. A former musician and actor, he clearly enjoys having an audience and several of his answers feel rehearsed and self-conscious. But at the same time, he’s also very guarded, rarely allowing us beyond his carefully bricked wall. His refusal or inability to display emotion makes it hard to connect with him, and we shouldn’t have to work so hard to feel empathy for a story like this. Paul is his own biggest obstacle, and while his story is remarkable, The Lost Sons isn’t anywhere near as engrossing as it should be.