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Family

Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Family Movie Poster Image
Language, drinking in affecting comedy about acceptance.
  • R
  • 2019
  • 85 minutes

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

Positive Messages

Mixed messages about women and girls (a set of middle school bullies is insulted for being "dogs" and "bitches," and one girl is said to have a "lazy eye"), but also very sweet messages about empathy, unity, importance of feeling like you belong, being true to yourself, understanding that most people feel like "freaks" inside no matter what they look like outside.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Kate is selfish and painfully blunt, but softens over course of movie, acknowledges her faults and need to be kinder. Adults are deeply involved with the young characters. Even though bullied middle school girl joins a socially reviled group with off-putting outward attributes, viewers see that the group accepts her as she is, cares for her. Some stereotyping, including middle school "mean girls" group. An adult woman calls them "dogs," says they don't have right to pick on others because they're so unattractive. At 11, Maddie is empathetic toward others: When told that it should make her happy to shop for a dress when there are poor kids who can't, she logically answers, "Why would that make me happy? It just makes me sad those kids are poor." A mom who thinks "karate is for boys" learns better. Characters are diverse in race, ethnicity, gender, body type. 

Violence

Viewers hear how violent a group of Juggalos is (talk of them stabbing each other and damaging public property, and viewers see them fistfighting), but they ultimately emerge as sweet eccentrics who drop everything to search for a lost kid. A bullied girl fights back against her foes by kicking one so hard she falls down; the kicker is then suspended from school. A woman is injured by a closing garage door.

Sex

Brief conversation about using two condoms for birth control (a character correctly says that it's safer to use just one) and some talk about dating. Two characters seem headed toward a romance at the end of the movie, but they never kiss. 

Language

Frequent strong language includes "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "p---y," "ass," and "bulls--t." A middle school-age child is called a "loser," and others are called "dogs" and "freaks." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

An adult handles stress by drinking; she gulps down wine, shots, cocktails. One scene shows many cocktails being downed. A character shows up drunk at a school; she takes a Lyft there and is driven by a sober friend so she doesn't drive drunk. At a gathering of Juggalos, people smoke joints and share large bongs; a character talks about being addled because she's on a lot of drugs. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Family is about a selfish, blunt workaholic (Taylor Schilling) whose unexpected week with her middle school-age niece (Bryn Vale) changes her in important ways. The main characters learn to have empathy for each other and for themselves, and both make positive changes in their lives. A girl who feels like she doesn't fit in is bullied by a group of female classmates who are then spoken of in stereotypical terms (as "dogs," "bitches," and "mean girls"); the girl ultimately defeats them by kicking one to the ground (she's suspended for it). At the same time, the girl also finds a group of friends who accept her for who she is. Despite some iffy choices, those friends are eventually revealed to be kind-hearted, thoughtful, and caring (even if viewers see them shrieking, punching each other, and sharing giant bongs). In other scenes, adults guzzle wine and cocktails; they don't usually appear drunk, but in one scene a character does show up drunk at a school. Frequent strong language includes "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "p---y," "ass," "bulls--t"; several characters are also called (or call themselves) "freaks." There's no sex or romance, but there's a brief joke involving condoms and suggestions of the potential for romance between two characters.

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What's the story?

Kate (Taylor Schilling) has her eyes on the prize at work and doesn't have a lot of time for FAMILY. But when her brother (Eric Edelstein) and sister-in-law (Allison Tolman) have to leave town for an emergency, Kate's the only one available to take care of her 11-year-old niece, Maddie (Bryn Vale). Kate figures she can hold things together as usual, despite a challenging period at work. But Maddie's a kid who needs help -- and, luckily, she finds it, thanks to Kate and a friendly group of local Juggalos (followers of the band Insane Clown Posse).

Is it any good?

It churns through plenty of cinematic clichés along the way, but ultimately this comedy gets to a place of genuine sweetness -- in a gathering of the Juggalos, of all places. Viewers will instantly recognize Schilling's Kate from the first scenes: She's tightly wound, all business, with no time for friends or family. "I have a habit of saying things that everyone is thinking, but then someone's always like 'Why did you say that?' so I'm usually in the place where I hate myself but also think I'm better than everybody else," she sums up to Maddie. We know, by the way, that Maddie will be the driving force of Kate's story arc, because of course Kate has to change by the time the credits roll, or why else would she be dressed in pristine white silk shirts and frowning? So change she does, and in all the ways you imagine she will -- but the magic of Family is that it's done with such artistry that it transcends the trite setup.

Maddie is a weird kid, but the movie's not laughing at her -- even though her true friends wind up being Juggalos who hang out in front of a mini mart playing a recorder. We feel the pain of her differentness from the kids at school, as well as her joy at finding a group that accepts her as she is -- and an aunt who can help her feel comfortable and supported in choosing to stand out rather than trying fruitlessly to fit in. Maddie's new friends, as Kate tells Maddie's worried mom, "play with their spit, and all their songs are about stabbing people, but once you get beyond that, they're really kind of sweet." And, without giving away the ending, it's true. No, it's not realistic, but Family gets at a real feeling: the wonder of finding your people. And clichéd as it is, it's awfully affecting. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Family compares to other family-centered movies. Does the content seem more or less realistic than others'? How is this family different from other movie families?

  • Is it ever OK to use stereotypes as a way of portraying characters? Do you see any stereotypes in this movie? Do the characters ultimately affirm or upend their stereotypes?

  • How do the characters in Family demonstrate empathy? Why are these important character strengths?

  • How does the movie portray drinking? Are there realistic consequences? Why does that matter?

Movie details

Character Strengths

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