3 Generations

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
3 Generations Movie Poster Image
Performances stand out in earnest drama about trans teen.
  • PG-13
  • 2017
  • 92 minutes

Parents say

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Kids say

age 11+
Based on 4 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Messages about the nature of unconditional love -- especially within families -- and the importance of being your true self (and reinforces that you can know who that true self is from a young age). Encourages talking through big issues and challenging situations honestly and openly. Themes include communication and courage.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ray is brave and confident in his identity, even though it's hard to be out as a transgender teen. Maggie is trying her best to figure out how to best parent Ray; she makes mistakes (both in the present and in the past) but always wants to protect and support Ray. The grandmothers love both Maggie and Ray unconditionally.


Ray screams and cries when he realizes his mom has been lying to him. Arguments/tense confrontations. Maggie gets in a minor car accident.


Post-sex scene between two adults. Jokes about whether a girl is hot and if Ray and his male friends would "hit that." Discussion of lovers.


Strong language include "f--k," "b-tch," "a--hole," and "s--t." (Some language was edited out of the movie to achieve a PG-13 rating.)


iPhone, MacBook, Chevy, Jeep, Ford.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink at meals.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that 3 Generations is an indie drama starring Elle Fanning as a female-to-male transgender teen being raised by his single mother and lesbian grandmothers in New York City. The movie, which has sparked some controversy among the trans community, doesn't feature a transgender actor in the main role but does portray the character as unambiguously knowing he is male. You can expect occasional strong language (including "f--k," "s--t," and "a--hole") and candid, emotional conversations about the struggles involved with being transgender and raising a transgender child. Characters say the wrong thing frequently and make plenty of mistakes, but that makes them relatable, and most have their heart in the right place. Ultimately themes include courage and communication. In a couple of scenes, teen guys discuss girls they find hot/would have sex with and make jokes about their penis size; other scenes show adults drinking and in bed post-sex. There's some arguing, and a character is in a minor car crash. The film initially earned an R rating from the MPAA (primarily for language) but was edited to be eligible for PG-13.

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

Teen, 14 years old Written byfarmgirl250255 March 2, 2020

Not bad

One post sex scene. Two people were lesbians but that didn’t bother me as they need more representation. I didn’t like the fact that they didn’t use a trans act... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written by-JE- September 11, 2019

Touching and Unconventional Coming-of-Age transgender story

3 Generations is an incredibly touching unconventional coming-of-age film telling the story of 16 year old Ray as he and his family struggle to cope with the c... Continue reading

What's the story?

3 GENERATIONS is the story of Ray (Ellen Fanning), a transgender teen boy who was assigned female at birth (and named Ramona) and raised by two generations of women in New York City. He lives with his single mother, Maggie (Naomi Watts); Maggie's mom, Dolly (Susan Sarandon); and her partner, Honey (Linda Emond). Dolly and Honey own the downtown brownstone where they all live. Ray's excited that his endocrinologist wants to start him on male hormone therapy to stop his periods and help him develop more muscle mass, but there are obstacles to overcome. Dolly initially doesn't understand why Ray can't just be a butch lesbian, and Maggie discovers that she needs both of Ray's parents' permission to start the medical protoco. This forces her to confront her past and her estranged ex, Craig (Tate Donovan), who has wife and children she didn't know existed.

Is it any good?

It has strong performances, but this earnest family drama about a trans teen unfortunately takes an underwhelming turn into melodramatic soap-opera territory. Fanning isn't trans, but she seems to have done enough research to make her portrayal of Ray convincing as he juggles the big feelings that teens born in the wrong bodies must go through. Ray is excited at the prospect of starting a new school, where people won't misgender or misname him; angry that others -- including his progressive lesbian grandma -- don't get it; scared about his romantic prospects; and committed to being his true self. Fanning is a talented young actress, and it's only a shame that the film doesn't stay focused on Ray's journey, instead detouring too much to Maggie.

Maggie is an adult daughter living with her mom to save money, raising her child alone by choice, and now looking for an ex who's still hostile about the way she treated him years ago. Watts occasionally overdoes the soapier bits, particularly in her big scene opposite Donovan, who's none too pleased to see the woman responsible for a lot of unresolved heartache and betrayal. As for supporting players Sarandon and Emond, they play opinionated, well-off, and cultured quite well. They add levity, as well as occasionally the voice of reason and revelation. Sarandon in particular is a stand-in for all those who are open-minded but confused about transgender issues. And when she's not dealing with Maggie's disastrous love life, Watts does a fine job demonstrating the complexity of raising a trans child. Ultimately, 3 Generations would have been better had there been more of the kid and less of the adults.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the messages in 3 Generations. What does the film have to say about families? About love and communication? Does everyone always say the right thing in this movie? When they don't, what happens? What does that teach viewers?

  • Who do you consider a role model in the movie? Why? What character strengths, if any, do they exemplify?

  • Some have called the film insensitive to the trans community because star Elle Fanning isn't trans. What role, if any, do you think an actor's personal identity should play in casting LGBTQ+ characters?

  • What do you think the movie hopes to achieve in telling Ray's story? How does it compare to other stories about trans/LGBTQ+ characters?

Movie details

Character Strengths

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