Parents' Guide to

American Folk

By Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 10+

Mild language in music-fueled 9/11 road-trip drama.

Movie PG 2018 99 minutes
American Folk Poster Image

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This good-hearted drama's almost naive view of the kindness of American strangers feels like a tonic for troubled times. American Folk feels patriotic in the gentlest way. It speaks to the resilience of the American character. It depicts people trying to avoid political discussions while coming together in the aftermath of 9/11. The film is mostly about the growing bond between Elliott and Joni, but the 9/11 backdrop is key to its fabric. It begins with a brief glimpse at the un-neighborly world of 9/10; after that, it visits town after town steeped in the national goodwill that followed the horror of that day (as opposed to the hate and vengefulness, which are seen only briefly here). It's an accidental road trip with music -- and purely American music at that. At its heart, American Folk is about music's power to unite. Its view of a changing America is certainly idealistic, with people seemingly always happy to help one another and open to one another's differences ... for the most part. It's also a pseudo-romance in the vein of Once: Don't expect neatly tied-up story threads.

Rubarth's Joni is a good person with a big heart; she's quirky and life-loving without feeling forced. She's memorable. Purdy's performance as Elliott is a bit monochromatic, but he does enough -- especially when Elliott humbly stands up for a person coming out as gay to her family. That scene is lovely, beautifully acted all around, and emblematic of the film's tender urgency. Writer-director David Heinz takes his time allowing Elliott and Joni's relationship to develop, from standoffishness through the first fleeting touch and beyond. And when the two main characters play and sing together in natural, off-the-cuff harmony, it's an effective statement of their chemistry (again, à la Once). The movie's score and cinematography are notable, as is Heinz's judicious use of symbols, such as when a character uses a sparkler to light her way in the darkness.

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