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Parents' Guide to


By Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 15+

Uneven comedy has strong language, sexuality.

Movie NR 2018 90 minutes
Birthmarked Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

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Just like the kids at the center of its story, this film feels shoehorned into being something it really isn't; it's like a philosophical drama about traumatized children crammed into a clown car. The goofy music, slapsticky moments, and certain situations and performances have the trappings of broad comedy. But much of what happens isn't funny in the least, and the dialogue doesn't make up for the humor gap. There's no shortage of memorable films about idiosyncratic upbringings, with 2016's Captain Fantastic being perhaps the best recent example. But Birthmarked doesn't share the same heartfelt foundation as that Viggo Mortensen charmer. Ben and Catherine don't labor from a place of love but rather from one of detached scientific curiosity. Their experiment feels more like the personality engineering of Divergent than the quirky family portrait of The Royal Tenenbaums. It's hard to have sympathy for them when they suddenly care whether their kids are taken from them. And then there's the fact that we know so little about the kids that, beyond the basic concern for their well-being, we have little invested in them, either.

Even the movie's central argument is given short shrift. The shallow thesis that nurture is superior to nature isn't particularly explored. We don't see the kids struggling mightily with the conditioning, just being squirrelly, as any kids might be. The pacing feels slow, emotions unearned. There are a few amusing bits -- such as the boy conditioned to grow up an artist being forced to sing the blues when he's upset, or the desperately lonely and horny Russian lab assistant/manny suffering when the scientists send away a rare female visitor. But those moments are few and far between in this misbegotten comedy.

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