A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie has brief strong language and sexual references and situations (Jamal's neighbors have loud sex on the other side of his bedroom wall). Forrester says that women will have sex with anyone who has written a book. Jamal and Claire take their relationship very slowly and show a lot of respect and concern for each other. Forrester drinks a good bit, and talks about a character who died in a drunk driving accident.
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What's the story?
In the inner city, a mysterious man nicknamed "The Window" (Connery) is never seen leaving his apartment. Local teen Jamal (Rob Brown) accepts a dare to enter the man's apartment. The man surprises him, and he races out, leaving his backpack behind. The next day, the backpack is thrown out the window, and Jamal finds extensive comments in his private journals. He returns to "The Window" to ask for more comments, and, slowly, a friendship begins. It turns out that the man is William Forrester, recluse author of one of the century's greatest books who has not published a book since his first won the 1954 Pulitzer Prize. Jamal's test scores earn him a full scholarship at a posh private school, but they want more from him on the basketball court than in the classroom. Some of his new classmates are friendly, especially Claire (Anna Paquin). But teacher Mr. Crawford (F. Murray Abraham) is suspicious and accuses Jamal of plagiarism. The only one who can defend him is a man who has not left his apartment in decades.
Is it any good?
There's nothing more appealing to watch in a movie than one character teaching another, except perhaps when two characters teach each other, as they do here. This reliable formula is well-presented in this fine film about two great writers at different stages of their careers. Newcomer Rob Brown is as impressive as the Oscar-winning trio of Connery, Paquin, and Abraham. Some of the best scenes are those in which Jamal unleashes his hidden smarts to skewer those who dared to have preconceptions about him. There are also scenes of real loyalty and connection between Jamal and Forrester, and between Jamal and his brother (Busta Rhymes in his best performance yet) and between Jamal and Claire.
The movie's primary weakness is its climax confrontation, which is artificially constructed and unrealistic. Forrester's explanation of his decision to withdraw from the world and his decision to change is weakly handled. Jamal may be just a little too perfect. And a brief in-joke appearance by a big star is distracting.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Jamal and Forrester hide their talents. How does the fact that both have lost family members provide an important connection for them? Why is it important for us to find people who can teach us? Why was Crawford so angry, and do you agree with Forrester's comment about "bitterly disappointed teachers?" What prejudices are revealed by the characters? Do you agree that "people are most afraid of what they don't understand?" Family members can also talk about Forrester's advice that the first draft is written with the heart, the second with the head, and might want to try his technique for getting started on writing.