Lean on Pete

Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
Lean on Pete Movie Poster Image
Haunting tale of survival and love has language, violence.
  • R
  • 2018
  • 121 minutes

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Because movie is so affecting and believable in its depiction of Charley's desperate need for love and his powerful will to survive, it speaks profoundly of those needs and drives in us all. It's ultimately about love at its most life-saving and redemptive.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Charley makes lots of iffy choices and does illegal things, but also works hard to get by, learning as he goes and never giving up even when things get awfully dark, so it's easy to see him as a positive representation for teens in crisis. His grit shines through. Also plenty of negative representations -- scary people who do scary things, an irresponsible father, an abandoning mother, a horse trainer who cares nothing for horses -- but other adults behave responsibly, mercifully to this struggling youth.


Bursts of violence are rare, but realistic and make a big impact. A brutal fistfight between two men has dire consequences. A character is fatally struck by a car. A character is mugged, and there's a retaliatory attack with a crowbar. Each act has traumatic aftereffects. 


Sexual situations are implied but not graphically, and nothing is shown. 


Frequent, realistic use of words including "f--k," "s--t," "c--ksucker," "p---y," and more.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A fair amount of drinking in bars and in celebration. Alcohol is offered to the underage main character; he says no and isn't explicitly shown drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Lean on Pete is a rich, deeply moving drama based on Willy Vlautin's novel about a down-on-his-luck teen (Charlie Plummer) and the horse he becomes attached to. While the movie has plenty of strong language (including "f--k," "s--t," and more) and occasional bursts of realistic violence (a fistfight, a mugging/retaliation, a car-caused fatality), as well as a bit of drinking, it's really the story's themes and their intensity that make it too mature for younger viewers. Charley is truly put through the wringer, experiencing several traumas and ending up forced to fend for himself in a cold, frightening world. But for viewers who can handle the subject matter, it's ultimately a positive film with a lot to say about perseverance and the human condition.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byahmed aiman 99 July 18, 2018

A Portray of a Young Man!

I liked Charlie Plummer's performance in All the Money in the World as John Paul Getty III, and since then I became interested in his upcoming roles. In Le... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byTherealdirtydan August 17, 2018

Depressing yet beautiful

Lean on pete is not overdramatic but it is mature heartbreaking with language and some brief but intense violence. Very well made but best for 13 or 14 or very... Continue reading

What's the story?

In LEAN ON PETE, Charley (Charlie Plummer) is a 15-year-old living on the edge of abject poverty with his loving but ne'er-do-well dad, Ray (Travis Fimmel), in Oregon. Charley is often on his own; during some of his explorations, he comes across a racetrack and starts working for shady trainer Del (Steve Buscemi) and with an already world-weary female jockey named Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny). Charley develops a close, perhaps unwise attachment to one of the horses, Lean on Pete. When Charley's world is turned upside down, he embarks on a desperate journey in search of some kind of home.

Is it any good?

This film is a traumatically beautiful drama that's surprising in a low-key way; it's moving and haunting. The unconventional way the plot unfolds is one of Lean on Pete's great virtues, so to describe it in too much detail feels wrong -- but it's important to note that child poverty and homelessness are central to the story. These themes are dealt with head-on, sometimes brutally. There will be inevitable comparisons to The Florida Project, but perhaps not since Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund's City of God or Hirozaku Kore-eda's Nobody Knows has there been so affecting a portrait of kids struggling to survive on their own. Unlike those films, however, Pete's protagonist has no one to turn to. He's truly alone. 

Writer-director Andrew Haigh (45 Years) is definitely one to watch. You might expect the story of a boy and a horse on a journey to be sentimental, but Pete never comes close to earning that description. Haigh's unadorned style sinks viewers into story and character. There are no sweeping camera moves, no swelling strings to tell us how to feel or give us distance from Charley's struggles. In fact, there's barely any score at all. Something as cinematically ordinary as a fistfight has real consequences. There is some humor; it comes from recognition. And while there are "name" actors in Pete, their performances are almost all impressively grounded. Buscemi's introduction gets a laugh because Del's language and attitude are what we've come to expect from him, but the rest of the way, he just is his character. Like most people in the film, Del is neither good nor bad. Sevigny and Steve Zahn turn in similarly unadorned work that's a perfect fit for the film's world -- which is a high compliment. With deceptive simplicity, Haigh allows his characters to be as multifaceted as real people generally are. They don't feel like symbols placed to convey a moral. That said, throughout Charley's sometimes-harrowing journey, there is a through line: the undeniable need for love. Haigh skillfully builds that essential drive within Charley, so we feel his longing and his heartbreaks. Plummer's unselfconscious, totally committed performance certainly deserves to be remembered. We simply believe him. Without trying too hard, Lean on Pete delivers a profound meditation on the will to survive and the necessity of love.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Lean on Pete. How does it compare to what you might see in an action movie? Do all types of media violence have the same impact?

  • Charley steals food, breaks into a house, and strikes back at someone who stole from him. What do you think about the morality of his actions? Is he a "good" or "bad" person, or is the portrait too complex for easy definition?

  • How does Charley demonstrate perseverance? Why is that an important character strength?

  • How is homelessness typically depicted on-screen? Have you ever seen what you thought were homeless kids in real life? How do you think they ended up in that situation? Did this film change your ideas?

Movie details

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