Coming Up for Air

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Coming Up for Air Movie Poster Image
Mother-son message movie focuses on mental illness.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 124 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Encourages honesty between parents and their college-age kids and the idea that young adults still need help from parents and trusted adults to overcome difficult times. Stan's story makes it clear how stress and balancing athletics and academics can drive some students to the brink.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Anna is a loving, caring, thoughtful mother who wants to help Stan get the support he needs. Stan is a talented and charismatic diver, an intelligent student, a loving son; he goes through changes when he starts experiencing mental illness and suicidal ideation.


A young man hurts his girlfriend while acting erratically; she suffers a black eye. Stan pulls a gun on someone, threatens to kill himself. Stan gets angry and full of rage toward his coaches.


College students hug and kiss briefly a couple of times.


Occasional strong language includes "f--k," "s--t," "Jesus," "God," "bulls--t," "shut up," "pr--k," "pain in the ass."


Volvo sedan, MacBook.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink cocktails or beer on a couple of occasions. College students are clearly having a party.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Coming Up for Air is a drama about an elite college athlete's deteriorating mental health and his single mother who's unable to help because her son is legally an adult. Expect occasional strong language ("f--k," "s--t," "pr--k," etc.) and violence, including an incidence of domestic violence and another of gun use/threats of suicide. There's also a little drinking and brief kissing/embracing. This indie message movie made by and starring a group of non-household-name Michigan actors/filmmakers may not attract a large audience, but teens and parents who watch it together will have plenty to discuss afterward, particularly about mental health as a young adult/college student.

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What's the story?

COMING UP FOR AIR is an independent family drama made by local Michigan filmmakers and actors about elite college diver Stan Russell (Chase Yi), who's having a tough time balancing his demanding athletic responsibilities with his rigorous academic workload. Stan, who's 19, is the only child of single mom Anna Russell (Deborah Staples), who's beginning to notice that Stan seems distracted, distant, and erratic (she doesn't even know exactly where he lives around campus). Although Anna's younger sister (Kate Thomsen) tells her she's just overreacting to age-appropriate independence, Anna continues to visit Stan's coach, school, and even counselors to figure out how to help her struggling son.

Is it any good?

This well-intentioned if overlong message movie promotes mental health awareness for college students. The cast isn't well known but does a decent, believable job. Staples stands out as Anna, who's heavily in debt but doing everything she can to support and help her son. Anna's maternal plight will be relatable to audiences with older teens or kids away at college, just as Stan's struggle to balance academics and athletics (and life in general) will feel similarly realistic to 18- to 22-year-olds who are doing their best to handle living on their own and life as an adult.

Coming Up for Air gets bogged down in parts, and it's about half an hour too long, but it's not without amusing and endearing moments. The comedic banter between Anna and her younger sister brings some levity to a drama with heavy themes, and the blossoming relationship between Anna and an old friend is just enough to keep the story from being melodramatic. Director Robert Cicchini's quiet movie skirts the line between retro after-school special and a streaming-service teen film, with various resources offered during the credits. It's worth watching before your kids have grown and flown, but it's not a likely pick for a fun family movie night.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Coming Up for Air. What are the various kinds of violence depicted in the movie? How does the potential of self-harm affect viewers, compared to the violence against others?

  • When is it important to talk about mental health, especially if you're worried about a friend or family member? What other resources are available to help both kids and adults

  • Parents and teens can also discuss gun violence and safety. How does the use of a gun change the stakes with regard to Stan's mental illness?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love moving stories

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