Above the Shadows

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Above the Shadows Movie Poster Image
Slow-burn fantasy/romance has some sex, sports violence.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 111 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

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

Positive Messages

Encourages people to not be pessimists/expect the worst from people and situations. Promotes connection and friendship between people and not allowing yourself to stop participating in the world. Also encourages people to look beyond the superficial, because most people are more complicated than they seem. Holly's story arc also reminds viewers not to allow grief or loss to make them disconnect from others for too long. Shows value of making amends.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Shayne starts out bitter and angry, but grows and redeems himself. He takes responsibility for past mistakes, learns from them. Holly, who starts out cynical and self-centered, realizes that she needs to be present for other people and have connections to bring her out of her solitude -- and that it's not right to manipulate people, even if you convince yourself you're doing it for their benefit. They help each other and learn how to be better for themselves and each other.


The MMA fights are pretty brutal -- punching, kicking, wrestling -- and leave fighters injured, bloody, hurt. A bouncer physically pushes/escorts a woman out of a building.


A character cheats on his wife (he makes out with another woman at a club). Kissing/making out leads to a "fade to black" love scene; for some of the scene, a man is shirtless and a woman in her bra. The scene is more touching, caressing, and kissing than sex, since one of the partners is a virgin. A few other scenes of couples kissing. One reference to an adult unknowingly having sex with a 16-year-old whom he thought was a college student/above the age of consent.


"Psycho," "loser," "cheater," "hell no," "you suck," "what the hell," "joker," "beat your ass," "bulls--t."


Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City. Nike shorts.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink socially at clubs, bars, restaurants. A lonely Holly drinks by herself, straight from the bottle. A man outside a club vapes an e-cigarette. Holly witnesses people wordlessly exchanging drugs at a club.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Above the Shadows is an indie romance/fantasy/drama about a young woman who somehow becomes genuinely invisible after her mother's death. Unable to be seen or heard, Holly (Olivia Thirlby) makes a living as a lonely paparazzo until one day, Shayne (Alan Ritchson), a bouncer/disgraced MMA fighter, can see her. Expect to see some MMA-related violence and injuries, as well as couples kissing passionately and one love scene (it's more touching, caressing, and kissing than sex, but a man is shown shirtless and a woman in her bra). Adults drink and vape at clubs and bars, and one character drinks at home. The language is pretty mild, mostly insults like "psycho," and "loser," plus infrequent use of "ass" and "bulls--t." Parents and teens who watch it can discuss the various themes about what it means to be invisible, the need for human friendship and connection, and seeing beyond the superficial.

User Reviews

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Adult Written byLydia M. November 7, 2019

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What's the story?

ABOVE THE SHADOWS is a relationship drama that centers on Holly (played by Fina Strazza as a teen), a middle child who feels like the only person in the world who loves her is her mother. But her mom dies, and Holly starts to feel invisible. And then she somehow actually becomes invisible (she can see others, but they can't see or hear her -- even her dad and siblings). It's as if she doesn't exist. As a young adult, a lonely Holly (now Olivia Thirlby) makes a good living as a paparazzo: She gets great shots, since none of her subjects can see her. One night Holly tries to follow a celebrity target into a nightclub, but a bouncer stops her. Shocked that the bouncer can see her, she confronts him and realizes that he's Shayne (Alan Ritchson), an MMA fighter whose reputation and relationship Holly helped tank with a photo of him cheating on his then-girlfriend, Julianna (Megan Fox). Convinced that Shayne's ability to see her is a sign, Holly believes that if she can help him make a career comeback, she might regain her visibility.

Is it any good?

A slow-burn romance is rooted in a magical-realism premise in this quiet but affecting drama about comebacks and connection. Viewers have to suspend disbelief to go with the central plot point: Somehow, Holly exists in the world without being seen or heard by anyone ... except Shayne. Thirlby gives a nuanced performance as Holly, the loneliest girl in New York. A creature of habit, she doesn't realize what she's missing until she and Shayne meet. Ritchson (looking at first glance like a cross between Chris Hemsworth and Sam Worthington) usually plays vain, arrogant characters, but his role in Above the Shadows demands him to be both a confident fighter and an empathetic friend-turned-potential love interest.

Writer-director Claudia Myers' setup is interesting, and she casts the film well, but there are a few niggling issues -- like uneven pacing and a clichéd third-act resolution -- that keep the movie from being a true standout. Still, Myers definitely knows how to treat romance from the female gaze -- not because Ritchson is eye candy, but because the love story is more about intimacy than just physical attraction. Considering that the other woman in Shayne's life is Julianna (who turns back up in Shayne's life when he makes his comeback), it's a worthy takeaway that, even when compared to a supermodel, another woman is equally worthy of love. In the end, the two lead performances make this a better-than-expected relationship drama that's worth watching.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Above the Shadows. Is it necessary to the story? Why? Does seeing rough sports affect you the same way as watching other types of media violence?

  • What do you think about Holly and Shayne's relationship? How does it change? Why is honesty important in relationships?

  • Who, if anyone, is a role model in the movie? What character strengths do they display?

  • What do you think of Holly's job? Is it fair for her to make money the way she does? Why or why not? How does she excuse it?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love romance and drama

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