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 fact-based "feel good" drama focuses on a determined man's unflagging quest to receive credit for his invention. Ultimately, it's heartening to see how far he gets, though some scenes may be overwhelming for very young children (for example, when the main character has a nervous breakdown). At times, the protagonist seems neglectful of his marriage and kids, but overall they're close and supportive. There's some swearing (including "s--t" and one use of "f--k"), social drinking, and smoking, but there's no violence or age-inappropriate sexual content.
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What's the story?
The phrase "flash of genius" refers to that moment of epiphany when an inventor discerns a crucial connection that -- hopefully -- leads to an important discovery. In FLASH OF GENIUS, Robert "Bob" Kearns' (Greg Kinnear) moment comes while driving with his family in the rain in the 1960s. Wondering why his windshield wipers, which had only one speed, couldn't work more like an eyelid -- blinking fast or slow as necessary -- the engineering professor and father of six sets out to solve the problem, eventually building an intermittent wiper. He and his friend Gil (Dermot Mulroney) try to sell the invention to Ford Motor Company, and a deal seems imminent. But at the last minute -- after Kearns gives them some valuable information about his gadget -- they decline. Then one day Kearns spies Ford's newest cars shimmying down the road, intermittent wipers working full-time. Kearns is convinced the behemoth company stole his idea and sets out to right the wrong. But at what cost?
Is it any good?
Inspired by real-life events, Flash of Genius is -- like its lead actor -- amiable and likable. Its populist tug at the heart is hard to resist (big kudos for making windshield wipers interesting). Kearns is anti-establishment in the purest sense of the word; he doesn't even want the money. He just wants people to know that Ford stole his idea and that he deserves the credit (or so the movie goes). For this, Kinnear -- who appears to be gunning for James Stewart's good-guy-makes-good mantle -- is more than able.
But the film lacks, well, genius. As David-and-Goliath tales go, it's no Rocky. The characters feel flimsy and one-dimensional; had they been rendered more fully and less after school-special-like, the movie would have been far more compelling. (Kearns, after all, did neglect his family; why are they so forgiving? Were they in real life?) As it is, Flash of Genius, while it scores high on the feel-good factor, is a little flat and a lot unsurprising.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Robert Kearns' story made a good subject for a movie. How accurate do you think the film is? Why might filmmakers bend the truth when making a movie based on real life? How could you find out more about Kearns if you wanted to? Also, why do you think his struggle took over his life? Why was it so important to him to get credit? Did he go too far? What were the consequences of his obsession? What makes someone an inventor? Was his idea stolen, or are the facts of the case not cut and dried?
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