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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dear Eleanor is a period comedy with a serious heart in which two teen best friends set out in to find ex-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The death of a beloved parent is the impetus for the girls' outrageous odyssey, sending them from California to New York. Their adventure introduces them to a bizarre assortment of unexpected people and improbable situations. Actual events of 1962, including the death of Marilyn Monroe and the Cuban Missile Crisis, affect the story. And many of the characters smoke (teens, too); marijuana is mentioned, as well. There are a few suspenseful moments, with no serious consequences (i.e., the girls come face-to-face with a wanted criminal; they're confronted and taken into custody by local police). A "dancer" wears skimpy clothing and has some sexy moves. Infrequent swearing includes "s--t," "up her butt," "hell," and "kiss my ass." The film deals delicately with a young girl's grief, her groundless guilt, and the challenges of trying to take her mom's place in a difficult household. The girls make mistakes, but they learn a lot about themselves and the world around them. Recommended for mature tweens and teens.
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What's the story?
It's August 5, 1962, when Ellie Potter's mom dies unexpectedly in DEAR ELEANOR. Mrs. Potter had been on her way to deliver an introduction for Eleanor Roosevelt at a local event; she was excited, nervous, and proud. But Ellie (Lianna Liberato) was being bratty, as 15-year-old girls sometimes are. When Mrs. Potter is killed in an accident on her way to make the speech, Ellie is devastated, as is her father, Bob (Luke Wilson), and the four younger kids for whom Ellie is soon responsible. And because of her behavior that morning, Ellie feels guilty, as well. Trying hard to help, Ellie's best friend Max (Isabelle Fuhrman) says they should go to New York to meet Mrs. Roosevelt in person; it would be a wonderful way to make Mrs. Potter proud. Ellie warms to the idea, secretly hoping that she may be able to deliver her mom's words to Mrs. Roosevelt and thus make amends. So, telling no one of their plans, Ellie and Max set off on the cross-country adventure of a lifetime. In addition to the larger-than-life people they meet and outrageous experiences they have, they must outsmart and outrun Ellie's dad, who takes after them with a special friend of Max's. Their journey is filled with the unexpected, and even their devoted friendship is threatened. But there are lessons to be learned, past mistakes to be forgiven, and a mission that must be accomplished.
Is it any good?
Unlikely but funny situations, conventional characters with a twist, mix-ups, letdowns, and upbeat performances all contribute to a film that young teens and mature tweens may find irresistible. There are some serious themes here, but they're handled with sensitivity. The actors seem to be having a great time, including Josh Lucas and Jessica Alba in offbeat featured roles. Dear Eleanor is a flawed film -- the "dance" scenes are barely passable, and some of the plotting is silly at times. Those missteps are saved by the screwball comedy tone and the delightful chemistry of the two leads.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the fact that Ellie and Max break a lot of rules on their journey, sometimes behaving outrageously. What keeps them sympathetic in Dear Eleanor? Does the fact that their adventures are funny and their purpose is innocent help keep them likable?
This film is an example of a "road movie," a specific genre of film in which the main characters are traveling for much of the story. Create a road adventure of your own. Find a purpose for your journey. In what time period and places would you set your story? Whom would you travel with, and why? What people would you like to meet?
Smoking is common in this movie set in 1962. Have you noticed that "the good guys" (male and female) in films set in the 21st century (both movies and TV) rarely smoke cigarettes? Do you think this is because attitudes have changed and responsible filmmakers are aware of the dangers of smoking? Why is it important for filmmakers and their audiences to understand how what is seen on film affects real-life behavior?
- On DVD or streaming: July 5, 2016
- Cast: Lianna Liberato, Isabelle Fuhrman, Luke Wilson
- Director: Kevin Connolly
- Studio: Sony Pictures Entertainment
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Adventures, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, History
- Character Strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 85 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some suggestive material and smoking
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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