A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie deals frankly, if not graphically, with severe child abuse, including sexual abuse. Characters use strong language, including the "N" word (used by African-Americans) and a gay slur. Fisher is justifiably proud of himself for not drinking, using drugs, or having promiscuous sex.
What's the story?
When sailor Antwone Fisher (Derek Luke) is sent for a psychiatric evaluation to Dr. Davenport (director Denzel Washington) for getting into fights, he refuses to talk. But Davenport insists that he sit in his office until he does. Finally, Fisher starts to tell Davenport his story of devastating neglect and abuse. And as he does, he finds himself opening up in other ways, even going on his very first date. Davenport goes outside the Navy rules to continue to provide Fisher with therapy that turns into a real friendship that changes both their lives. He encourages Fisher to try to connect with his family so that he can understand his story better. Fisher confronts his abusive foster mother, meets the mother who abandoned him, and finds the family of the father who died before he was born.
Is it any good?
At first, the fact that this movie does not follow the usual pattern can feel disconcerting, even amateurish. There is an obvious tension between what is important to Fisher the person and what works on screen. Ultimately it gives the movie a kind of messiness and heart that provides some extra authenticity. Washington does very well with his first directing job, especially with Luke and model Joy Bryant as Fisher's girlfriend in their first major roles. And as Dr. Davenport, Washington's grace, dignity, sheer magnetism and ability to convey a complete character with every gesture are enough to carry the entire movie.
Therapy films usually follow the same pattern as romance films, a sort of one-sided romance of the subjects with themselves. In other words, it's therapist meets patient, therapist loses patient, then therapist gets patient to open up with a big revelation to begin to heal. But Antwone Fisher, a true story written by its subject, the journey inside himself is just the beginning. The story is not what goes on in his conversations with the doctor, but where that takes him.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what kept Fisher strong through all of the abuse. How did he have enough of a sense of himself to resist becoming a criminal, a drug user, or an abuser? Families can also discuss the theme of forgiveness, the ability "to regard without ill will despite an offence." Why is forgiveness more important for the person doing the forgiving than for the person being forgiven? Talk about Fisher's saying that he was ashamed for being unwanted, and the importance of forgiving those who do not appreciate us as a way of appreciating ourselves.
- In theaters: December 10, 2002
- On DVD or streaming: May 20, 2003
- Cast: Denzel Washington, Derek Luke, Joy Bryant
- Director: Denzel Washington
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: violence, language and mature thematic material involving child abuse
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