A Better Life

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
A Better Life Movie Poster Image
Eye-opening social drama about immigration and family.
  • PG-13
  • 2011
  • 98 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Amid the movie's often harsh realities is an inspiring message: Hope springs eternal, and that's a good thing. You can't let life, no matter how difficult, harden you.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Carlos, despite all the problems flung his way, is honest and principled. He can even find compassion for the man who wronged him. And though his son at first seems attracted to a life of thuggery, in the end, it's family -- specifically, his father -- that's most important and most influential. His aunt, too, supports his father.


References to gang activity, including beat downs. Teenagers tussle and chase after a classmate in an attempt to get even for his extortionist ways. Guns are fired; threats are hurled. A man attempts to wrestle a thief, whom his son then starts to hit ferociously.


A teenage couple flirts and kisses.


Swearing isn't constant but includes words such as "f--k," "s--t," "a--," "bitch," "damn," and "hell."


Some signage visible, including Tecate.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Brief drug use, and teens are shown drinking beer. Some additional social drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this enlightening, sometimes heartbreaking drama about the illegal immigrant experience pulls no punches in its portrayal of a hardscrabble life, addressing the challenges that the undocumented face without lecturing -- or pandering. Expect the occasional barrage of swearing (including "f--k" and "s--t"), some teen drinking, and a frank look at the lure of gang life in the city. Guns are used, and there are some fights.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 1 and 2-year-old Written byMommaOfTwoo March 4, 2013

A Better Movie

While I liked this movie, there was so much bad language that i wasn't as impressed as I would have otherwise been. Good message of not giving up though.
Parent of a 13-year-old Written byswopefam August 2, 2011

Worthwhile and thought-provoking

This film provoked a lot of thoughtful conversation in our home, much of it initiated by our daughter (13). It really touched her, while introducing her to a wo... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old January 19, 2012

This Movie Made Me Have a Better Life

This movie teaches preteens what real life problems are. There are many things to discuss with your kids. Almost every teen will somehow encounter gangs and stu... Continue reading

What's the story?

He may be a day laborer, but Carlos (Demian Bichir) has big dreams for himself and his son. So when a colleague offers Carlos the opportunity to buy his truck and the gardening clients he has collected through the years, Carlos feels the pull of hope. With his sister's help, Carlos makes the investment, dangling the news to his wayward teenage son, Luis (Jose Julian), like keys to a better life. He worries for Luis, whose gang-banging friends are luring him down a dangerous path. But when the truck is stolen, Carlos and his son decide they won't sit by and stay victims. They'll get it back -- at whatever cost.

Is it any good?

When a movie is able to bring to life a politically loaded issue without being suffused with cliches and rhetoric, it's a miracle. That's exactly what A BETTER LIFE accomplishes; it's a nuanced, sensitive, moving examination of the illegal immigrant experience in modern America. It's a well-crafted movie -- taut when called for, pensive when necessary. It zigzags fluidly between social commentary and family drama, never tipping each side too heavily so as to achieve a delicate balance.

And at its core are two great actors, Bichir and Julian, who manage to make the script come to life with authenticity and empathy. Luis' struggles as a teenager trying to live boldly yet conscientiously could have used some fine-tuning -- some sections seem like shorthand -- but this quibble won't weaken a strong film deserving of an audience.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the movie portrays undocumented workers and their families. Is it objective, or are viewers meant to take away a specific message? Would you consider that message political?

  • What is the film's take on the immigration debate? Do you agree? Why or why not?

  • How does the media typically depict father-son relationships? How does this movie compare?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love drama

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