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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that All Together Now is an uplifting teen tale based on Matthew Quick's novel formerly titled Sorta Like a Rock Star. It has some sad scenes that could upset sensitive viewers. Main character Amber (Moana's Auli'i Cravalho) repeatedly faces challenges, setbacks, and tragedies that no kid or teen should have to suffer, including the death of parents and being unhoused. Events spiral out of control in part because of her mother Becky's (Justina Machado) dependence on alcohol. Becky's drinking is discussed but not shown; the same goes for her abusive boyfriend. Still, Amber maintains a positive outlook and works hard, eventually learning to accept help from her diverse group of friends when she needs it most. It's implied that one of her friends is on the autism spectrum; another uses a wheelchair. There's one brief kiss, and language is limited to "ass," "suck," and "hell."
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What's the story?
Amber Appleton (Auli'i Cravalho) and her mom, Becky (Justina Machado), are temporarily unhoused when ALL TOGETHER NOW begins. They've fallen on hard times, and Amber's mom struggles to provide sufficient food and shelter for her daughter. Amber counters this by maintaining an exceptionally positive attitude, both at school and in her various after- and before-school jobs. She's so positive that her supportive group of friends doesn't really know about her difficulties, and she's moving forward with a singing audition at the college of her dreams. But things come crashing down when Amber's mom moves back in with her abusive, heavy-drinking ex-boyfriend and tragedy strikes. Amber will have to learn to accept help from those around her to a degree she might never have anticipated.
Is it any good?
This heartwarming tale is held together by a strong central performance from Hawaiian-born actress Cravalho. The film touches on the very real issue of teens being unhoused, but not in a didactic way. In fact, Cravalho (best known as the voice of Moana) infuses Amber with such energy as a well-adjusted, cheerful, and kind young woman, despite her hardships, that you can't help liking her. The film and Cravalho do a crafty job pulling you in so that you're invested when things take a turn for the worse, which they definitively do in this story based on the YA novel Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick, who also wrote The Silver Linings Playbook.
Some audiences will be drawn to All Together Now by the high-profile supporting actors, namely Carol Burnett and Fred Armisen. Neither has an especially standout role, and Armisen in particular feels under-used. The iconic city of Portland, Oregon, is also under-exploited as the setting. Two other recent releases come to mind as making more of their Pacific Northwest backgrounds: Netflix's drizzly Washington-set The Half of It and Disney's quirky Portland-set Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made. Lyrics on the soulful soundtrack notably echo the storyline.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about unhoused teens, as depicted in All Together Now. Do you think this is common in the United States? Where could you go to find out more? How can you help unhoused families in your area?
How does the movie present drinking? Are there consequences for drinking too much? If so, what are they?
Do you think Amber treated her mother fairly? Was her mother doing her best, as she said? Why or why not?
Have you read the book the film is based on? How does it compare? What other films adapted from books have you watched?
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