A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Horse Girl is an intense, sympathetic tale of one young woman's spiraling mental decline. Alison Brie (a cowriter of the film) plays Sarah, whose path takes her to strange places which, at times, suggest the supernatural or otherworldly events. There are spooky, suspenseful scenes -- all from Sarah's point of view -- in which the heroine feels threatened. She also suffers from sudden nosebleeds and bouts of upsetting memory loss. The movie includes brief glimpses of corpses, a shot of a young woman, thrown from a horse, lying motionless. A couple kisses and engages in foreplay and sexual intercourse, which is shown with the camera holding almost entirely on Sarah's face. Viewers should expect full-frontal female nudity, as well. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "ass." At a party, the participants drink to excess, roll a joint, and get stoned. This movie with mature themes, some disturbing sequences, and sad moments won't appeal to most kids.
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What's the story?
Sarah (Alison Brie) is a gentle, thoughtful young woman in HORSE GIRL. She's fully engaged at work in a local crafts store, enjoys her job and her colleagues, especially her boss, the warmhearted Joan (Molly Shannon). In her leisure hours she visits a horse she adores and is happily obsessed with a supernatural TV series. But Sarah is lonely, shy, and isolated as well. At an impromptu gathering on her birthday she meets Darren (John Reynolds), friendly but also awkward. They have an immediate rapport and Sarah's future briefly seems brighter. However, it soon becomes clear that everything isn't right. Sarah is troubled: struggling with disturbing dreams, sleepwalking, enduring lapses in memory, and a curious preoccupation with bizarre, otherworldly events. Revelations about her atypical family history heighten her unrest. Ultimately, Sarah's valiant efforts to be "normal" are at risk, and the people in her already-limited world become increasingly concerned by her behavior and growing fixation on the fantastical.
Is it any good?
Along with director Jeff Baena, Alison Brie has written a complicated, tragic heroine deserving of compassion; her performance is the best thing about this heartfelt exploration of mental illness. As unbalanced as she is, the filmmakers build strong rooting interest for Sarah as she tries to navigate reality against impossible odds. Horse Girl is an offbeat movie, intensely focused on the protagonist's descent, but giving supporting players some nice moments to play as well. And, with its supernatural story elements, the final sequence is just enigmatic enough to keep viewers wondering in spite of themselves. An entrant at the 2020 Sundance Festival, the film is well-made and impactful, though not a movie everyone will like.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how sexuality is portrayed in Horse Girl. How did the director film the sexual scenes? Were the sequences and the nudity meant to be exploitative and/or titillating, or to build audience awareness of the eccentricities of Sarah's mind?
How do movies like this one enrich your understanding of and empathy for people with mental disabilities? In what ways, if any, did it change your perceptions?
How did you react to the ending in this film? What do you think it was meant to convey, or was it purposefully mystical?
Why is mental health an important issue? How did the movie portray the community treatment options for someone like Sarah? Why do you think Ethan released her after her 72-hour-hold in the facility? What else might have been done if there were more resources?
- On DVD or streaming: February 7, 2020
- Cast: Alison Brie, Molly Shannon, John Reynolds
- Director: Jeff Baena
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 104 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language and some sexuality, graphic nudity and drug use
- Last updated: March 12, 2020
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