A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Boy Called Po is a drama about the grieving process and parenting a kid with autism. In the very first scene, viewers will see the casket of a wife and mother who died of cancer; throughout the movie, the son asks his grieving dad, "Where's Mommy?" A bully pushes, chases, and punches the boy at school; he gets one black eye, and many other bruises are mentioned. The boy's behavioral challenges related to autism lead him to run away more than once and to stick his finger in the propeller of a large model airplane. He gets stitches in the emergency room. Language is infrequent but includes a use of "bulls--t." Viewers will learn a bit about therapies used to help kids on the autism spectrum and the common struggles they face. Here one struggle is food sensitivity and selectivity, which is so pronounced that we see Annie's macaroni and cheese at every meal.
What's the story?
In A BOY CALLED PO, an 11-year-old autistic boy named Patrick (Julian Feder), who prefers the nickname "Po," is at school getting bullied while his father, David (Christopher Gorham), attends Po's mother's funeral. After the funeral, David struggles to find the time to mourn. He's under a lot of pressure at work to build the perfect modern airplane. And after work, he manages Po's specialized care, which includes many therapies and many more late nights listening to Po read the Wall Street Journal when he can't sleep. It's a routine David can't sustain for long. Soon his struggles at work cost him his job, and his struggles with Po worsen. Po acts out, running off more often and lacking any kind of focus at school. And he retreats further into his own fantasy world every day. It's a world, David fears, where one day he may no longer be able to reach his son.
Is it any good?
This tale of mourning and the difficulties of parenting a kid with autism feels more like a TV movie drama than a theatrical release in its production values and multiple weepy moments. In an overload of jumpy scenes and a maudlin soundtrack by Burt Bacharach, a lot of sadness hits the viewer at once: a funeral, a bullied boy with many challenges, a dad whose coping mechanisms are workaholism and snapping at his son's understandable behaviors. And it gets harder to watch from there, especially if you're a parent or an educator in the know. Why is David refusing to tell his son about their shared loss? He's 11 years old. Why is the school so blind to Po's bullying for so long? Most schools these days have whole programs about preventing bullying -- or at least a playground aide to keep an eye on kids like Po, who are often easy targets. And where is this kid's IEP (individual education plan) that specifies what supports the school gives him? This is not the principal's job.
But A Boy Called Po, which is from director John Asher, who's mostly known for his work on TV, does have a few successes. Po's fantasy world may be a stretch -- it's hard to imagine it's that focused on the social when he's so into reading the Wall Street Journal -- but his realities as a kid on the spectrum touch on a lot of what many real kids and their parents experience. The food preferences, the sleeplessness, the multiple therapies, and the struggles to connect with other kids are a part of the package for many autistic kids. It's a step in the right direction in depicting this world that many parents of neurotypical kids don't often see.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how A Boy Called Po depicts its autistic character. Do you know someone with autism? Do they have similar struggles? Different ones?
Where else have you seen autistic characters in movies or on TV? Do you think if the statistic is true -- that one out of every 60-something people lies somewhere on the spectrum -- that this population is represented well enough in the media?
How does the school handle Po's bullying? Do you think it would really go on that long without someone noticing? What help is out there for kids who get bullied at school?
- In theaters: September 1, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: September 1, 2017
- Cast: Christopher Gorham, Julian Feder, Kaitlin Doubleday
- Director: John Asher
- Studio: Freestyle Releasing
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Magic and fantasy, Middle school, Misfits and underdogs
- Run time: 95 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements and some language
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.