Decoding Annie Parker

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Decoding Annie Parker Movie Poster Image
Powerful if a bit uneven docudrama about cancer, research.
  • R
  • 2014
  • 99 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

There are several positive messages in the movie, including the idea that research -- and not just awareness -- is what's going to help prevent or stop cancer. Without Dr. King's commitment to research, who knows whether it would have been discovered that there's a genetic predisposition to certain kinds of breast cancer?

Positive Role Models & Representations

Dr. King is a dedicated geneticist who believes there's a connection between genetics and breast cancer. Despite setbacks and the many years it takes to collect data, she and her staff remain committed to the cause. Annie focuses on finding out why so many women in her family have died of breast cancer and doesn't stop doing her own research for the cause.


Several deaths due to disease (cancer, HIV), mostly people related to the main character. A woman battles cancer, surgery, and treatment; she's shown vomiting from side effects.


Several references to sex (or "thumpety, thump, thump," as the main character calls it); several brief scenes of a married couple having sex (bare backs, buttocks); and one brief scene of adulterous sex. A woman complains about how her husband won't touch her after her mastectomy.


Occasional very strong language: "f--k," "dumbf--k," "f--king," "s--t," "a--hole," "goddamn," and more.


No overt product placements.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults occasionally drink, smoke cigarettes, or smoke pot.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Decoding Annie Parker is a multi-decade docudrama about two women: the scientist who discovered the breast cancer gene and the cancer survivor who makes it her mission to figure out why her family was so afflicted by the disease. Sex and language are the big content issues here; there are several references to and brief glimpses of sex (bare backside, moaning, adultery) and occasional use of very strong language, which tends to be variations of "f--k" and "s--t." Several characters die, mostly of cancer (and in one case, AIDS). Audiences will learn about the scientific method that led to the discovery of the BRCA gene.

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What's the story?

DECODING ANNIE PARKER is the story of two very different women who both want the same thing: to figure out whether there's a genetic cause for breast cancer. In Toronto in the early 1970s, 18-year-old Annie Parker (Samantha Morton) was already motherless due to breast cancer when she impetuously married her rock-star-wannabe boyfriend, Paul (Aaron Paul). Soon after that, her father dies, then her older sister Joan also succumbs to breast cancer (Marley Shelton). Eventually Annie, too, gets a diagnosis, causing her to become obsessed with the idea that it can't be just random bad luck. Meanwhile, in the States, leading research scientist Dr. Marie-Claire King (Helen Hunt) works in her lab to study families with multiple cases of the disease in the hopes of discovering a breast cancer gene. It takes decades, but both women weather countless ups and downs to reach their goals.

Is it any good?

Cinematographer Steven Bernstein makes his feature-film directorial debut with this informative if slightly uneven depiction of how two different women address breast cancer. One is a researcher, one a survivor; both commit themselves to the notion that breast cancer that runs in family can't be a coincidence. Despite the film's strong language and occasional sex scenes, it feels more like an old-school made-for-TV-movie than a sophisticated feature. The performances are solid and the story powerful, but the execution (especially the division between the two storylines) is spotty and underwhelming at times.

Still, it's emotional and upsetting -- particularly as the Job-like Annie deals with death after death and treatment after treatment. Decoding Annie Parker is a good choice for mothers to watch with their mature teen daughters; they'll have plenty to talk about afterward. Whether it's discussing Annie's heartbreaking life or Dr. King's relentless mission to find the gene, audiences will want to find out more about the real story of BRCA gene research. Although there's a lot of sadness in the drama, ultimately science prevails in a most unsentimental way. The feelings are left to Annie, who never gets her family back but does get the answers she desperately needs.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the need for cancer research. Why do you think Decoding Annie Parker focuses on both a survivor and a scientist, rather than just one or the other?

  • What's the movie's message? What does it take to be a visionary scientist?

  • What audience do you think the movie is intended to appeal to? How can you tell?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

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