Why She Smiles
Why She Smiles is the true, inspirational story of 34-year-old Jamie Sorum, who is battling Huntington’s Disease. Huntington’s Disease is a rare, fatal neurological disease with symptoms being described as having ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s all simultaneously. There is no cure. Why She Smiles brings awareness to the necessity of a cure, and highlights Jamie’s unfaltering ability to face each day with hope, joy, and surpassing bravery.
This short documentary does an amazing job in portraying the remarkable story of Jamie Sorum, a woman battling Huntington’s disease and does so with a smile. The film opens with her uncle, Dan Jeffrey, talking about Jamie’s adopted father running into her bedroom and exclaiming that her eyes were rolling into the back of her head. Dan goes on to explain that after a trip to the hospital for several days, Jamie returned, smiling. “If that’s God’s love…I believe, I believe,” he says. The film does a terrific job in showing why Jamie smiles…it comes from her relationship with Jesus.
Huntington’s disease is a fatal, genetic disorder which causes both the physical and mental capacities to deteriorate. Extra protein from the disease actually places holes in the brain which controls motor functions. In this film, we learn why Jamie’s biological mother put her up for adoption– and if Jamie ever gets to meet her.
Various family members chime in about their relationship and growing up with Jamie, including her sister Micah. “We had our own issues,” she says. “She stole my clothes. We fought. I hated her for it.” But Micah goes on to say that she has always been protective of Jamie and it is obvious that she loves her. She feeds Jamie at the table. Jamie sometimes has difficulty keeping all the food in her mouth as she eats. It’s later said that she sometimes chokes and laughs all at the same time. Home videos of the girls playing together are shown. “There’s a lot of different dynamics in our relationship,” says Micah.
Jamie’s adoptive parents, Jim and Pat Sorum, talk about gaining two daughters years before. “That was not easy on our marriage,” says Jim. “We were two people that were free and pretty independent. We went from freedom to two babies. We were held captive by two babies,” he jokes.
Next they adopted a boy, Jacob. In an old video we see baby Jacob and Pat encourages him to “praise the Lord, Jacob!” She comments, “We had no idea of how to become parents. They just became our little buddies.” Jacob says that for a large part of his life Jamie “was like a mother figure.” We see that she used to carry him around when he was little and he now helps carry her and lifts her out of bed in the morning. We also learn that Jamie was teased at school and Micah says, “I tried to protect her.”
The documentary does a stalwart job in telling Jamie’s story, showing old family videos, photos, and in conducting interviews. Jamie is now 34 years old, and constantly smiling, despite her body not cooperating with what she attempts to do. Jamie used to have problems with depression. “I was very depressed,” she says. And brother Jacob admits he didn’t always understand her anger. She once went to her parents’ bedroom at night and said she had just taken a bottle full of pills of Tylenol. Jim says they headed to the hospital and had her stomach pumped.
Jamie’s pain not only stemmed from the disease but also in breaking off a seven year relationship with her boyfriend, Jason. She wanted him to be free to marry and to one day have children. He wanted to stay with her but she said no. The documentary explores how it affected everyone, including Jim. “I remember feeling very lonely,” he says, “very isolated, very lost in this journey.” He wondered who he could talk to as he didn’t want to talk to others for fear that Jamie would be judged.
But the family has managed to keep a positive outlook. When looking at a photo of Jamie as a baby, wearing a bonnet, Jacob jokes, “She looks like she’s from the pioneer days.” And Jason’s parents, the parents of Jamie’s old boyfriend, make it clear they still love Jamie and the family to this day. “I adore them,” says Leah Jester and it’s obvious her husband Jim feels the same way.
Part of the story centers around Jamie’s efforts to locate her biological mother, to learn why she was adopted. We also learn that Jamie has recently tried a new pill for the Huntington’s but sadly it seems to have made little difference. Yet her smile is now ever present. When asked if she ever was angry at God, she says, simply, “No.” When asked if she is afraid of the future she replies, “No.” She shares that as the Apostle Paul had a thorn in the flesh and three times asked God to remove it and God didn’t, that she has accepted this is her lot in life, but that God’s “grace is sufficient.” Some say they absolutely retain their faith in God while a few others remark that they’re not sure or haven’t thought about it much. Jim, Jamie’s dad, says that he does believe in love and that “God is love.” In a touching scene near the end of the film the family sings, How Great Thou Art together. Her Uncle Dan sums it up so well. “She knows a lot of joy. She has faith and she has hope.” He says Jamie’s smile both gives him joy and breaks his heart.
This film easily merits our Dove seal and we award it our 12+ seal, while noting some kids a bit under 12 would be mature enough to appreciate it.
The Dove Take:
This inspiring film will encourage people to fight through life’s problems and difficulties and to retain their hope.