By Tracy Moore,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Teen terminal-illness romance has sexuality, heavy themes.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Keith espouses positive messages about there being more to life than making good grades and going to college -- it prioritizes experiences and enrichment over achievement.
Positive Role Models
Adults in the film are engaged, concerned, caring, and present. Teenagers are realistically developed and show positive traits, such as compassion and studiousness, but they make undesirable choices, many without consequences There are some brief scenes of underage drinking, and the treatment of high school relationships is very adult-like, with discussions of sex and plans to get away for the weekend without parental supervision. Because the subject matter here is exacerbating (teen illness), some of the troubling behavior makes sense in retrospect: the dishonesty, defacing school property (shown with consequences), skipping tennis lessons, and skipping a tennis match. However, the latter half of behaviors is explained in a resolution that comes very late in the film, so the majority shows the main characters in various states of disregard for rules.
Violence & Scariness
The film has a few scenes of minor peril, such as when a truck with two teenagers in the back starts rolling toward a cliff, and one of them seems lackadaisical about getting out until the very last second. A teenager jumps out of the backseat of her parents' stopped car while it's at a red light in traffic. A teenager breaks into a locker with a fire extinguisher (shown with the consequence of school suspension), and a teenage girl runs a red light, pulling out in traffic erratically and narrowly escaping causing an accident.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
The film contains a scene that implies intercourse through body movement, though the teenagers are shown only from the back up, both appearing naked, with the guy on top so there's no nudity. In another scene, a teenage couple makes out, showing a brief shot of a guy's hand groping a woman's torso. In a few scenes, sex is discussed frankly -- in one, two teenagers discuss whether she's ever "done this before." Then, the teen boy reassures his girlfriend that "it's no rush." In another scene a teenager says he used the girl he slept with. There are a few scenes of passionate kissing between teenagers and another wherein two bare butts are shown when two guys run naked into the lake at a party.
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There's consistent use of profanity, with expressions such as "f--k," "hell," "goddamn," and "s--t."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
The film implies that drinking occurs regularly at a party site out in the woods. In a few scenes, teenagers are shown behaving raucously around a fire with some ice coolers and people holding plastic cups, as if drinking. There are a few jokey references to drinking wine and learning more about smoking pot. In another brief party scene, high schoolers show up to a party with wild dancing where some people are carrying brown paper bags and sipping from what appear to be beer cans. There is no explicit drunkenness, nor is the underage drinking shown with consequence.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Keith is a film about high school students that contains some underage drinking, sexuality, the implied loss of virginity between high school students, and some mature discussions of sex and that concerns a teen struggling with cancer. Though it's ultimately a film about how the power of love can overcome some fairly stark circumstances, there's some erratic behavior related to those circumstances, such as a disregard for school, goals, and rules, including some law-breaking and dishonesty, many of these behaviors without consequence.
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What's the Story?
Seventeen-year-old Natalie (Elisabeth Harnois) is a high school star with great grades and a tennis scholarship to Duke on the horizon if she stays focused. But when she's paired with Keith (Jesse McCartney) in the chemistry lab, an enigmatic loner with a bad attitude who flouts the rules and doesn't seem to care what anyone thinks, her focus begins to shift. Keith not only seems like he has something to hide, but he acts like he has nothing to lose. As Natalie gets pulled into his mystery, she begins to lose sight of everything she thought she wanted.
Is It Any Good?
KEITH often resembles an old screwball comedy in its characters and their chemistry. There's a wise-cracking tough guy and a feisty woman paired together who hate each other at first, then slowly thaw into each other's arms over 95 minutes with increasingly erratic behavior. Only this is a movie set in high school about a kid who has terminal cancer. But since you don't know that for the first 90 minutes of the film, the actions make more sense. Still, it's sometimes hard to see the bigger message, if there is one. Love is crazy? Dying is the best exemption to chemistry lab? Though consequences are shown for some of these choices, none of the characters seems to care too much.
For that reason, the frank discussions of sex, the mature handling of loss of virginity, and the fairly casual attitudes about partying, underage drinking, and getting away for the weekend without parents may ring a bit too mature for younger teens who aren't ready for vaguer messages about the purpose of life. But for an older teenager, there may be some enjoyment here in a terminal-illness romance that trades the usual cliquish teen concerns for a whirlwind, offbeat pairing.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about terminal illness. Does Keith's behavior in the film seem believable? What about Natalie's? What are other ways you've seen reactions to terminal illness depicted in films in terms of the attitude of the patient and those close to him or her?
What would you do if you knew you only had so long to live? Would you be angry? Would you try to accomplish something big?
How did the filmmakers' use of suspense regarding Keith's condition work in the film? Is it likely someone could keep an illness a secret at school? How does it add to or detract from the experience for the viewer?
- On DVD or streaming: February 3, 2009
- Cast: Jesse McCartney, Elisabeth Harnois, Jennifer Grey
- Director: Todd Kessler
- Studio: Image Entertainment
- Genre: Romance
- Topics: High School
- Run time: 95 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: Rated PG-13 for brief sexuality and language.
- Last updated: April 4, 2023
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