A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Birthmarked is a quirky, mature comedy about scientists who turn raising their children into a grand science experiment -- without telling them. Expect lots of swearing ("f--k," "s--t," and more) and scenes in which kids are sexualized inappropriately. Adult characters' unconventional sexuality is played for laughs, and partial nudity includes bare breasts and bottoms. Some violent moments (people are hit by a car, one person hits another in the face with a shovel, etc.) are potentially iffy because it's hard to tell whether they're meant to be realistic or slapstick. One character drinks a lot of wine and is often drunk; another smokes. Toni Collette and Matthew Goode co-star.
What's the story?
In BIRTHMARKED, married social scientists Ben (Matthew Goode) and Catherine (Toni Collette) raise their kids under experimental conditions to prove the superiority of nurture over nature. They set out to condition their biological son, Maurice (Anton Gillis-Adelman), and adopted kids Luke (Jordan Poole) and Maya (Megan O'Kelly) against what they consider to be the kids' genetic predispositions. But they don't tell the kids why they're being raised this way. The whole family lives in seclusion, with only a Russian lab assistant/manny/uncle (Andreas Apergis) for additional company. Under pressure from their benefactor (Michael Smiley) to produce results, the scientists feel the strain -- their marriage suffers, and the kids become unhappy.
Is it any good?
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how parents are portrayed in movies about raising kids. When they come across as overbearing, are the results usually positive or negative? How realistic did you find the portrayal of parenthood in Birthmarked?
What do you think of the experiment/plan? Is the parents' deception justified?
Do you consider this a comedy or a drama? Why? Was it effective as either or both?
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