Life Inside Out

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Life Inside Out Movie Poster Image
Heartfelt look at mother-son bonding through love of music.
  • NR
  • 2014
  • 102 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Promotes the value of family communication, parental involvement in a child's life, and acceptance of people as they are. Encourages finding and pursuing individual goals at any age. Examines an assortment of interfamily relationships and the importance of forgiveness and respect.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Laura has great empathy for her son, is determined to reach him despite his withdrawal, and is wise and loving toward all family members. She doesn't give up easily and, at the same time, sets a good example while pursuing her own goals. On one occasion she snoops in her son's bedroom. The father, though occasionally abrupt, set in his ways, and unwilling to accept differences, learns important lessons about being a good parent. An overweight character is depicted in one sequence as bothered by her eating habits and aware of her inability to change. Ethnic diversity.

Violence

Some mild scuffling between brothers. Boy shoves his mom, pushing her to the ground; he is remorseful, and she is not injured. 

Sex

Playful kissing between a husband and wife. Teen boy and his girlfriend embrace.

Language

Occasional mild swearing and teasing: "damn," "hell," "crappy," "hard to pee," "piss off," "s--thole."

Consumerism

Home Depot, Guild guitars, 7 Up. Visual and/or audible references to some local Southern California establishments: Monrovia Bakery, Cafe Club Fais Do-Do, Tattoo Love. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

An occasional beer. Several scenes take place in a local nightclub in which people drink adult beverages. In the background, a character smokes. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that love, respect, and acceptance within the family are the values that Life Inside Out holds close to its heart. The film focuses on a traditional, middle-class American family: a mom, a dad, and three teen sons dealing with an assortment of contemporary issues (teen isolation and self-doubt, midlife changes, economic instability, an aging parent) in a simple, natural way. Character and relationships prevail over plot; optimism and hope win out over despair and defeat. Music becomes the tie that binds the family together, and there's plenty of it, all "open mike night" amateur fare. A brief flare-up results in a teen inadvertently pushing his mom to the ground; another boy smacks his brother. Some mild curse words ("piss off," "damn," "hell," "s--t"), and drinking. This earnest film shows how one mother succeeds in reaching her withdrawn 14-year-old and has the capacity to inspire conversation in families with teens and older kids.

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What's the story?

It's a tense time in Laura and Mike's household as LIFE INSIDE OUT opens. Laura's family creamery has closed; money will be tight until she gets a job; 14-year-old Shane (Finneas O'Connell, an appealing and believable young actor) is withdrawn and sullen; and Laura's sister and aging dad are increasingly in need of her attention. The beleaguered mom (played by Maggie Baird, who wrote the script, some of the music, and produced with her real-life husband) finds momentary solace when she pulls an old guitar out from under the bed and gingerly begins to play. Life has put Laura's music on hold for too long, and when she picks it up again, a long dormant passion for singing and writing music takes her by surprise. Summoning her courage, she signs up for Open Mike night at a local club, practices a song she wrote years earlier, and risks making a complete fool of herself. But she does it! As Shane watches his mother engage with this new-old part of her life, he becomes her ally and supporter, and he begins to engage in life, and music, as well. The struggles don't change -- family obligations, social pressures, growing up or growing older -- but as their relationship solidifies, it's certain that mom and son will team up to make the most of whatever comes their way.

Is it any good?

High in earnestness, low on budget, Life Inside Out makes a strong case for open communication, shared interests, and a willingness to cope bravely with changing circumstances. Very natural performances, a relatable family that feels true and current, along with the thoughtful messages are reasons to see the film. Still, it's slow going at times, especially in the club scenes, with too many off-story songs and singers, most of them substandard and forgettable. There's a certain sweetness to the music of Laura and Shane, but even those songs are lacking nuance and artistic depth. Clearly, the aspirations of the filmmakers (Life Inside Out made the rounds at film festivals and was a Kickstarter project) were high and deserve appreciation. However, pacing, production values, on-the-nose dialogue and lyrics, as well as the story's predictability may disappoint some audiences. For others, Laura, Shane, and their family will touch their hearts. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Laura and Shane finding a mutual bond in their love of music. What other activities, beliefs, or pursuits might bring parents and kids together? What passions do you share with other members of your family? How is your home life enriched by those communal interests? 

  • As the story unfolds, Shane's feelings about his family, school life, and himself became clear. What techniques did the filmmakers and the actor use to convey Shane's feelings? Choose and think about a few scenes that helped you understand what he was going through.

  • The movie advises "letting go of one dream to embrace a new one." What does this statement mean? 

Movie details

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