All the Wilderness

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
All the Wilderness Movie Poster Image
Teen drinking, drugs in vivid, poetic coming-of-age drama.
  • NR
  • 2015
  • 76 minutes

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Kids say

age 14+
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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

The movie is about empathy and understanding; the climax comes when the main character finally finds people he can talk to and those people are willing to listen without judgment. But for a long time, he avoids connecting with his mother, or a therapist, or even a friend.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Many of the characters are suffering and just trying to get by. None of them does anything terribly heroic or outstanding. Teens are shown drinking, smoking, and shoplifting, without consequence.

Violence

The main character is chased by bullies and punched once in the face. He has a black eye throughout the movie. Another fight, another punch to the face. Small scratch below the eye. Dead animals (crow, hamster, fly, etc.). Discussions of death, dying, and suicide. The main character is briefly chased by imaginary, nightmarish, shadowy figures.

Sex

Teens kiss on a dance floor. Adults flirt.

Language

Three uses of "f--k," several uses of "s--t," two uses of "bitch."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A secondary teen character is shown to be a regular drinker (whisky), smoker, and pot user; he shares with the main character. Teen characters shoplift a bottle of alcohol and drink it. The main character comes home drunk, and his mother is shown to be a heavy drinker. A teen girl describes how she once took pills and had to have her stomach pumped.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that All the Wilderness is a coming-of-age drama about a troubled teen trying to cope after the death of his father. Teen characters drink pretty frequently (sometimes to the point of getting drunk); they also smoke cigarettes and pot. All of this is without much in the way of consequences. A teen girl talks about a time when she took an overdose of pills and had her stomach pumped. There's also frequent talk of death, dying, and suicide. The main character is bullied and punched in the face; he sports a black eye throughout the movie, then gets into another fight later and is punched in the other eye. Language is infrequent but contains a few uses of "f--k," "s--t," and "bitch." There's a scene of teen kissing. Despite the dark material, the main character eventually learns to trust others and finds help unburdening himself, and ultimately this is a vivid, poetic movie for older teens and adults.

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What's the story?

James (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is having a difficult time dealing with his father's death. He sees a shrink (Danny DeVito) about his antisocial behavior and spends his time filling a notebook with drawings of dead animals. And his exasperated mother (Virginia Madsen) wants him to enroll in a special school that she thinks will help. Then, while out wandering around, James meets a orphan, teen pianist Harmon (Evan Ross), and crosses paths with a girl he briefly met in the shrink's office, Val (Isabelle Fuhrman). As he becomes more involved in a world of abandoned buildings, skateboarders, and parties, James finds that he can no longer keep the truth about his father inside.

Is it any good?

As the debut feature for writer/director Michael Johnson, ALL THE WILDERNESS is a remarkable achievement. Many young filmmakers tell somewhat similar coming-of-age stories about lost characters, but Johnson allows the movie to become a place that his young hero can get lost in. The camera sadly searches and roams, never quite finding any answers or anywhere to land. And the main character's narration ventures further into primal themes.

Thankfully, All the Wilderness doesn't collapse into a grungy-looking, hand-held mess. Johnson prefers a dreamy look, a slow, meditative tone in which feelings, details, and ideas can be absorbed. The movie doesn't tell its story, it feels it. At only 76 minutes, the movie may feel slight, but it's slighter than a well-written short story. Johnson's touch with actors is equally instinctive; the performances are all fine, and Madsen, especially, is terrific in her sympathetic role.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about teen drinking, smoking, and drug use depicted in All the Wilderness. Does the movie make substance use look alluring? Why do you think the characters do it? Are there consequences for their choices?

  • How much violence does the movie show? How does the character's black eye affect how you perceive him throughout the movie?

  • How does the theme of the wilderness and animals enter into the movie?

  • What does the movie have to say about suicide? Do you agree with its position?

Movie details

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