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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Boy Genius is a comedy about Emmett (Blackish star Miles Brown), a 12-year-old prodigy who teams up with his eccentric test-prep instructor (Rita Wilson) to figure out who's behind a series of thefts at his high school. Like many comedies about super-smart kids, the movie makes jokes about Emmett's personality -- his maturity level, his overly formal speech, and his borderline-inappropriate, unrequited crush on a girl who's at least four to five years older than he is. Expect some insults ("pathetic," "loser," "home-wrecker," "stupid," etc.), an unsupervised party where high school students drink and a character waves a baggie of weed around (but no one partakes), and a fight that leaves Emmett with a bloody lip and the other guy on the ground after being punched in the face. There are several conversations about race and privilege, as well as one mature-for-young-viewers discussion about marriage, adultery, mental illness, suicide, and betrayal. Themes also include curiosity, the danger of making assumptions about others, and thinking of failure as a learning opportunity.
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What's the story?
In BOY GENIUS, 12-year-old Emmett (Miles Brown of Blackish) is an award-winning junior at Heart High School, where he's applauded for his academic prodigy status but doesn't have a large group of friends. He goes to school with his older brother, Luke (Skylan Brooks), who's a talented visual artist but gets into trouble -- and he has an unrequited crush on the older Tonya (Arabella Monae). When a string of thefts starts plaguing both staff and students, Principal Ally (Nora Dunn) accuses Luke of the crimes, convincing Luke's single mom (Tracie Thoms) to send her older son to a special boarding school. In order to prove Luke's innocence and keep his family together, Emmett teams up with his SAT test-prep tutor, Mary (Rita Wilson), who's also a crime-thriller novelist, to solve the mystery of Heart High School's robberies.
Is it any good?
This child-prodigy comedy is familiar and funny enough to amuse younger viewers but doesn't stand out quite as much as its main character does. Brown's precocious Emmett and Wilson's eccentric Mary have a charming intergenerational friendship as they attempt to use her true-crime know-how and his super intelligence to find the real thief. There's a particularly funny moment when Mary barges into a high school party and plays Naughty by Nature's "Hip Hop Hooray" to give Emmett more time to investigate a classmate's bedroom. There aren't enough movies about multigenerational friendships, so it's nice to see Emmett learning from Mary.
Although Boy Genius' plot is rather thin, the filmmakers do include a few surprisingly substantive conversations and themes in the story. It's revealed that Emmett and Luke's dead father, who was also incredibly intelligent, had a mental illness, and Emmett worries, relatably, that he'll follow in his father's footsteps. The script falters in its preoccupation with Emmett's crush (for someone who's such a prodigy, it seems rather immature that he thinks a 16- or 17-year-old could return his affection), and the resolution of the crime investigation ends up feeling a bit anticlimactic. But for tweens, it's an entertaining pick with a charming cast.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why movies/TV shows about kid prodigies, like Boy Genius, are common in pop culture. What makes precocious geniuses fascinating? Who are some of your favorite on-screen kid geniuses?
What do you think about Emmett's comments about race and privilege? Why does he think that Mary will be able to "get away with" more than he can? Do you agree? Why or why not?
- In theaters: September 6, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: November 5, 2019
- Cast: Tracie Thoms, Rita Wilson, Miles Brown, Nora Dunn
- Director: Bridget Stokes
- Studio: Gravitas Ventures
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: High School
- Character strengths: Curiosity
- Run time: 93 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: November 4, 2019
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