The Big Sick

Posted on June 22, 2017 at 5:53 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language including some sexual references
Profanity: Strong and explicit language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Very serious illness
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 24, 2017
Date Released to DVD: September 25, 2017
Copyright Amazon 2017

The more specific the story, the more universal. This is a very specific story. Indeed, you are unlikely ever again to see a romantic comedy with one of the pair spending half of the film in a coma. And that is not the couple’s biggest obstacle. Kumail Nanjiani (“Silicon Valley”), plays a character named Kumail Nanjiani in a story based on his relationship to Emily V. Gordon (played by Zoe Kazan and called Emily Gardiner in the film), who is now his wife and the co-screenwriter of the smart, touching, heartfelt and very funny film. It is beautifully directed by Michael Showalter, as always unsurpassed in meticulous casting of even the smallest roles.

Real-life Nanjiani and his movie alter ego are Pakistani immigrants from traditional families. Every time he visits his parents for dinner, an unmarried Pakistani woman “happens to drop in.” They have made it very clear that they expect him to marry a woman who is Pakistani and Muslim. Gordon is neither; she is white and from North Carolina. Just after they break up because he could not say that they could have a future together, she suddenly becomes critically ill and is placed in a medically induced coma.  He gets the call when she is hospitalized and has to be the one to call her parents. He meets them for the first time in the hospital waiting room, where they are understandably frosty (he broke their daughter’s heart) and preoccupied (she’s in a coma).

They would rather that he not be there. And his parents find out that he has not been honest with them and they tell him they cannot accept his feelings for Emily. So, in the second half of the movie there is another kind of love story, about the love between parents and their children and the partners their children choose.

It is also a story about a man learning to be honest with himself about who he is and what he wants. What lifts this out of the recent glut of arrested development movies is its compassion for all parties (the film nicely acknowledges that Nanjiani’s brother has a very successful and satisfying marriage arranged the traditional way and presents as one of the candidates a woman so seemingly perfect for him that we almost root for her) and Nanjiani’s thoughtful, self-deprecating but confident performance. The best stand-up comics mine their own lives for material, with observations that make us see our own lives, and especially our follies and irrationalities, in sharper relief — that’s relief in both senses of the word.

Best of all, the movie itself is proof that they lived happily ever after.

Parents should know that this movie includes strong language, sexual references and non-explicit situations, family conflict, and very serious illness.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Kumail tell Emily about his family’s concerns? How should you decide what traditions to keep and which ones to leave behind?

If you like this, try: “Ruby Sparks” (also with Kazan, who wrote the screenplay) and “50-50” with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, also based on a true story

Related Tags:


Based on a true story Comedy Comedy Date movie Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Family Issues Illness, Medicine, and Health Care movie review Movies -- Reviews Romance

Everything, Everything

Posted on May 18, 2017 at 5:57 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief sensuality
Alcohol/ Drugs: Medication
Violence/ Scariness: Theme of potentially deadly illness, reference to sad death, domestic abuse
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 19, 2017
Copyright Warner Brothers 2017

“Everything, Everything,” based on the novel by Nicola Yoon, is an updated fairy tale about a princess trapped in a castle and the prince who does not exactly rescue her but gives her a reason to rescue herself.

It’s not an enchantment or a curse that keeps her inside. It’s an illness that means any exposure to bacteria or a virus could be fatal. Maddy (Amandla Stenberg, Rue in “The Hunger Games”) cannot remember a time when she was allowed to be outdoors.

Diagnosed at 2 with the immune deficiency SCID, Maddy lives in an irradiated and sterile environment. She has never left her home and has never met anyone other than her doctor mother (Anika Noni Rose), her nurse Carla (Ana de la Reguera), and Carla’s daughter Rosa (Danube R. Hermosillo). She has books, she has an exercise machine, she has 100 identical white t-shirts, and she has an online SCID support group. She and her mother watch movies and play phonetic scrabble. Maddy studies architecture and builds model rooms, placing the figure of an astronaut in each one. This avatar is her opposite. Her world is measured in square feet; the astronaut’s is unlimited.

Maddy stands at the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the backyard and imagines what it would feel like to stand on grass or feel a breeze of unfiltered air. And she has a seat in the corner of her bedroom overlooking the house next door, which is how she peers down at a new family moving in, a new family with a boy who has a beautiful smile. He is Olly (Nick Robinson of “Kings of Summer”). He draws his phone number on his window opposite her bedroom, and soon they are texting each other, sweetly portrayed as a face-to-face conversation at a table in Maddy’s model diner, with the astronaut looking on. She wears white; he wears black. She says, “When I talk to him, I feel like I’m outside.” But when she talks to him, she wants to go outside. And both of them find their worlds getting less black and white.

The elements of a young teen romantic fantasy are all here, primarily the disapproving parent, the utterly devoted and hunky but not too aggressive young male, adoring and supportive, and the big reason that they cannot get too physical, except maybe one perfect time. In “Twilight,” he was a vampire who could lose control and kill her. Here it’s just his normal human germs. Anyone over the age of 15 may be distracted by impracticalities and plot developments that go from improbable to preposterous, but even people who know that you have to have ID to get on an airplane and money to pay a credit card bill might just enjoy the pleasures of watching Maddy wake up to the world and Olly, through her, wake up to a few of his own.

Parents should know that this film includes risky teen behavior, some strong language, serious illness, and a non-explicit sexual situation.

Family discussion: Did Carla make the right decision? Why does Maddy put an astronaut in her model rooms?

If you like this, try: “My Sister’s Keeper,” “Before I Fall” and “The Fault in Our Stars”

Related Tags:


“Gothika Rule” Based on a book Date movie DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Illness, Medicine, and Health Care Romance

Beauty and the Beast

Posted on March 16, 2017 at 5:55 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action, violence, peril and frightening images
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fairy tale peril and violence, wolves, mob, guns
Diversity Issues: Very subtle suggestion that a character might be gay, tolerance a metaphorical theme of the film
Date Released to Theaters: March 17, 2017
Copyright Disney 2017

Disney’s live action remake of one of its most beloved animated fairy tales is every bit as enchanting as we could hope, gently updating and expanding the story to give the characters more depth and appeal and filling it with movie magic.

In a prologue, we see that the Beast was once a handsome but vain and selfish prince who cared only about beauty. An enchantress cursed him to become a beast, the courtiers all turned into furniture, serving pieces, and accessories. If the Beast cannot find a way to love and be loved before the last petal falls from the enchanted rose, they will never return to human form. The Beast has given up. He is angry, hurt, and terrified that he is unlovable, as Stevens shows us with just his voice, posture, and piercing blue eyes.

Emma Watson, best known as Hermione in the Harry Potter films, plays Belle, introduced in the opening musical number as a bit of an outsider in her small “provincial” French village. She loves to read, but seems to have read everything on the one shelf of books in the town. Belle is not concerned with her looks, and Watson is encouragingly messy, with locks of hair falling around her face and sturdy boots instead of the animated version’s flats. We can see that she truly loves to learn and has an independent, adventurous spirit.

Belle adores her father (Kevin Kline as Maurice), an artist turned repairman, and she is an inventor herself, creating a washing machine that can do the laundry while she reads. Gaston (a terrific Luke Evans, clearly enjoying the way Gaston enjoys being Gaston) is an arrogant soldier who wants to marry Belle because she is beautiful and because she is the only girl in town who does not think he is dreamy. “She hasn’t made a fool of herself just to gain my favor.” Like the prince who turned into a beast, Gaston judges people only on how they look and how they respond to him.

Away from home, Maurice is chased by wolves and ends up seeking shelter at the Beast’s mysterious enchanted castle where the candelabra and teacup can talk. As he leaves, he picks a rose for Belle and the Beast (Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey”) furiously captures him. Belle tries to rescue her father but ends up taking his place as the Beast’s prisoner.

But in this “tale as old as time,” we know that Belle and Beast will begin as “barely even friends, then somebody bends, unexpectedly,” and it is genuinely touching to see how it unfolds. With additional songs from original composer Alan Menken (with lyrics from Tim Rice, along with some lyrics written by the late Howard Ashman for the original film that were not used), some backstory about both Belle and the Prince, and a more thoughtful portrayal of the development of their relationship. I was especially glad to see that their shared love of books played an important part in their connection.

The storyline is unexpectedly resonant with contemporary challenges, with the greatest threat from an angry mob suspicious of anything unfamiliar and easily spurred to violence. We get to see a bit more of the enchantress behind the curse as well.

The two moments fans of the original film will count on are the “Beauty and the Beast” waltz in the ballroom (now sung by Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts) and the musical extravaganza “Be Our Guest” (now sung by Ewan McGregor as Lumiere), and both are gorgeously, joyously stunning, but the moments that stay with us are the sensitive performances and the tenderness of the relationships.

Parents should know that this film includes cartoon/fantasy peril and violence, wolves, a monster, a curse, some scary images, and a subtle reference to a gay crush.

Family discussion: What did the Beast learn from his enchantment? Why is Gaston so selfish? What do Belle and the Beast discover that they have in common?

If you like this, try: the animated original and the live action “Jungle Book” and “Cinderella”

Related Tags:


Based on a book Date movie Fantasy For the Whole Family Movies -- format Musical Remake Romance

Fifty Shades Darker

Posted on February 9, 2017 at 5:19 pm

Copyright 2016 Universal Pictures

Ibsen had it right in “A Doll’s House.” When his heroine walked out and slammed the door at the end of the play, he left it there. She didn’t come back in two sequels. Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson, wearing bangs, the universal signifier of adorkability), despite her name, is not that resolute. In “Fifty Shades of Gray” she was a shy college student introduced to the Red Room of Pain and the world of bondage and submission by fabulously handsome and fabulously wealthy and fabulously troubled Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). As he explains to her, it is the submissive who has the power in the relationship. The dominant inflicts pain but the submissive sets the limits. Ana set the ultimate limit by walking out on Christian at the end of the first film. But just days later, he comes to a photography show featuring six huge portraits of Ana, buys them all because he doesn’t want other people gawking at her. The woman who just left him nevertheless consents to let him take her to dinner (“because I’m hungry”), and then invites him to dinner. After first insisting there would be no sex and then that they need to take it slowly, of course they end up having sex, and pretty soon he’s spanking her again, but only after she asks for it.

Maybe if you turned off the sound, it all might seem less dull and silly, like the kind of high-end perfume commercials they only show before Christmas and Valentine’s Day. With the sound on, it alternates between syrupy pop songs and clunky dialogue. Fans of the books may enjoy seeing the characters on screen but those unfamiliar with what I will generously call the storyline will find it more like a random series of what I will generously call events. Putting the book on screen reveals its essential flimsiness, its origins as “Twilight” fan fiction showing through. As with “Twilight,” this is the story of a girl whose purity of heart is so powerful she is able to tame the ultimate predator. Like “Twilight,” he is surrounded by a large, complicated, powerful family, most of whose members should have been jettisoned for the movie version because they do not add anything. Unlike “Twilight,” which was explicitly envisioned as a romance without sex (until it wasn’t), this is a shipper, with lots and lots of sex. While there is much talk about a “vanilla” sex life, there is also a lot of naughty stuff with fancy lingerie (where did it disappear to between the apartment and the party?) and sex toys (“That is NOT going in my butt!” Ana says merrily at the sight of a pretty set of Ben Wa balls).

While both Ana and Christian are supposed to be driven for professional achievement, they do not spend much time actually working. Ana loves her job as an assistant to Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) the head of fiction for a small independent publisher. About half an hour after we realize he is a scummy guy who is trying to have sex with her, she realizes he is a scummy guy who is trying to have sex with her. So of course Christian has him fired and Ana gets his job. Seriously, I have seen six year olds playing with Barbies who came up with more believable workplace storylines.

Meanwhile Ana is bothered by Christian’s past, including an abused drug addict mother who died of an overdose, a suicidal ex-sub who is obsessed with him, and the older woman who seduced him when he was 15 and introduced him to the pleasures of pain (Kim Basinger, herself a pioneer of pretty, soft-focus soft-core S&M in “9 1/2 Weeks”). And Ana is trying to get Christian to tell her about his past, which begins with her drawing a line with red lipstick around his scarred but super-jacked chest to delineate what she should and should not touch. She apparently redraws it on him every day because it is still there days later, no smudges.

Sam Taylor-Johnson brought some humor and a woman’s perspective to the first chapter. She also streamlined it to remove irrelevant and distracting details, left in here for no reason. How does Ana not know Christian’s housekeeper and why is there a scene of their first meeting? Also, there are a lot of lacy little underpants in this movie, mostly being removed. There is also a situation where a lot of misery would have been avoided with a phone call or text message and yet it doesn’t happen, for no reason other than prolonging the agony.

This sequel, reportedly with more involvement by the author, is lackluster fan service. I’d even call it vanilla.

NOTE: Stay through the beginning of the credits for a teaser of part three, coming out in time for Valentine’s Day 2018.

Parents should know that this movie includes very explicit sexual references and situations, sexual harassment, extensive nudity, sex toys and issues of bondage and submission, very strong language, peril including a gun and a helicopter crash, and spouse and child abuse.

Family discussion: Why did Christian tell Ana not to touch his chest? Why did Ana care so much about her job?

If you like this, try; “Fifty Shades of Gray” and “9 1/2 Weeks”

Related Tags:


Based on a book Date movie Drama Romance Scene After the Credits Series/Sequel

The Space Between Us

Posted on February 2, 2017 at 5:15 pm

Copyright STX Entertainment 2016
Copyright STX Entertainment 2016

An intriguing premise is repeatedly undercut by clunky dialog and corny plot twists in “The Space Between Us,” the story of a teenager born on Mars and his first trip to Earth.

It begins in 2018, just before the launch of the first expedition to colonize Mars. Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman) has been planning it since he was 12 years old and now, a joint project from NASA and the private Genesis corporation is sending a team not just to explore Mars, but to live there for four years, in a settlement called East Texas. With the depletion of resources and abuse of the planet, Mars is the best chance for humanity to continue. “Mother Nature does not negotiate.” The night before launch, Shepherd presents the crew, lead by Sarah, who captivates the crowd with her gallantry and confidence. “Courage,” she tells them, “is fear that has said its prayers.”

All goes well at first, but it turns out, about halfway to Mars, that Sarah has committed a reckless misjudgement. She is pregnant. Nathaniel, worried about losing funding for the project, keeps it secret. Sarah dies giving birth and the baby is raised by the scientists on Mars, without anyone on Earth knowing about him other than Nathaniel and a couple of his colleagues. “East Texas runs on money, science, good faith, and PR,” Nathaniel says. He will not risk the mission. And the child, gestated in zero gravity, might not be able to survive the trip home or life on Earth.

By the time we see him again, Gardner (Asa Butterfield, still soulful, and quite the beanpole since we saw him in “Hugo”) is a teenager. His only friends are an astronaut scientist named Kendra (Carla Gugino), who treats him like a lab assistant, and a robot sidekick.

In some ways, he is just like teenagers on earth, moody, uncommunicative, very interested in meeting a girl, determined to find his father, and determined to test whatever boundaries there are. In some ways he is different. He knows very little about the most basic elements of life on earth. And, because he is the first human to grow up in the 62 percent lower gravity of Mars, his physical development — bone density, heart — has been affected so that even if he did get a chance to come to earth, it could kill him.

But remember what I said about boundaries? And girls? Gardner has been e-chatting with a high school girl named Tulsa (Britt Robertson, seven years older than Butterfield and looks it), who lives in foster care in Colorado. He runs away from the NASA/Genesis medical facility to meet Tulsa and asks her to help find his father, with Nathaniel and Kendra in pursuit. There were so many possibilities here, to see Earth through the eyes of someone whose only knowledge of the planet and human interaction involving more than the same five people came from Wim Wenders’ “Wings of Desire” and old how-to movies about dating. Instead, we get a syrupy love story and chases with a helicopter, a crop duster, and a series of stolen cars.

Last year’s “The Martian” made the science fascinating. “The Space Between Us” tries to make it superfluous, neglecting some basic principles of physics but even worse, some basic principles of logic.

Parents should know that this film includes some mild language, non-explicit teen sexual situation, alcohol abuse, teen mayhem (stealing, reckless driving), some peril, childbirth scene, sad death, and health risks.

Family discussion: What’s your favorite thing on earth and why? What surprised Gardner most? What advice would you give him about how to act on Earth?

If you like this, try: “The Martian” and the film Gardner watches, “Wings of Desire”

Related Tags:


Date movie Drama Science-Fiction Stories about Teens
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2021, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik