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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Clouds is the true, often sad story of Zach Sobiech (Fin Argus), a teenager diagnosed with terminal cancer who became known to many via his hit song "Clouds," which was recorded in the final months of his life. But the movie has a generally positive tone, thanks to Zach's natural good nature. In an opening scene, he sings "Sexy and I Know It" in front of a high school audience, dancing suggestively and conveying both popularity and a self deprecating sense of humor. Scenes show him struggling with illness, undergoing chemotherapy, being rushed in for emergency surgery, and facing his own terminal diagnosis. He occasionally reacts with anger and deception to his fate, including a scene in which he almost crashes a car. He's also painfully aware of the grief he's bringing to his loved ones, including his tight-knight family, a girlfriend, and his best friend, who all exhibit courage and compassion in their handling of Zach's illness. Scenes with his girlfriend include some kissing, snuggling in bed, vague references to sex, and removal of an outer layer of clothing. Catholic faith is implied, especially in a trip to Lourdes, France. The movie is based on the book by Sobiech's mother.
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What's the story?
CLOUDS is the name of the hit song teen Zach Sobiech (Fin Argus) wrote and performed not long before his death from cancer at the age of 18. When, at age 17, Zach is diagnosed with a terminal form of osteosarcoma that will give him just months to live, he has to decide what to make of his final days. With the support of his mom (Neve Campbell) and dad (Tom Everett Smith), and inspiration from his high school teacher Mr. Weaver (Lil Rey Howery), he opts to fight hard and live those days to their fullest. He and best friend Sammy (Sabrina Carpenter) post a music video to YouTube and generate tens of thousands of views, culminating in a contract to record their first album. Meanwhile, Zach is falling in love with classmate Amy (Madison Iseman) and grappling with both the grief his illness is causing his family and friends and his own mortality.
Is it any good?
Thanks to genuine performances and a heartbreakingly true story as inspiration, this is a moving film that avoids sentimentality or total predictability. That doesn't mean director Baldoni hasn't structured the narrative to elicit maximum feels, swinging between highs and lows in Zach's life regularly throughout Clouds. But Baldoni's meaningful connection to the Sobiech family -- he'd filmed Zach as part of the My Last Days series and, by his own account, forged deep relationships in the process -- has surely contributed to the truthfulness and care with which this story is told. The film is also based on a book by Zach's mom and props have been incorporated from Zach's own bedroom and wardrobe.
The authenticity of the endeavor, especially in light of a growing body of YA-targeted fare dealing with illness and death, including the Baldoni-directed Five Feet Apart, could have flagged without the right casting. Argus does an excellent job conveying the teen grappling with his own mortality at the same time as he's living entirely new and electrifying experiences, like first love or fame as a budding musician. Argus and Carpenter also have the musical talent to pull off their roles, and the film is lifted by its solid supporting cast and realistic dialogues. Two moments stand out as particularly memorable: a pilgrimage to the healing baths of Lourdes, filmed reverently inside the caves and beneath the water, and a snippet of bagpipe music indicating Zach's passing, an elegant substitute to a drawn-out funeral scene.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether Clouds is ultimately a sad story or an uplifting one, or both. What positive messages did you take away from it?
The film is based on a true story and a book written by the real Zach's mom. What do you think are some of the challenges of adapting a true story into a film with actors?
What other movies have you watched featuring terminally ill teens? How did this story compare?
- On DVD or streaming: October 16, 2020
- Cast: Fin Argus, Sabrina Carpenter, Neve Campbell
- Director: Justin Baldoni
- Studio: Disney+
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, High School
- Character strengths: Compassion, Courage
- Run time: 130 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: brief strong language
- Last updated: March 19, 2021
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