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Little Joe

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
Little Joe Movie Poster Image
Sci-fi dirge may create false worry for kids; mild violence.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 105 minutes

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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

Scientific experimentation is a Pandora's box: There's no way to know the true consequence until the box is opened. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Emily becomes curious about the potential side effects from smelling the plant she's engineered and shows integrity in trying to stop the sale of her creation when she fears it could be harmful. She's a scientist, but she prioritizes work over her child.

Violence

Implied violent death that happens off camera. A man knocks out a woman, but the strike and fall aren't shown. A struggle results in a fall; minor blood.                                                                                                 

Sex

Plot points revolve around procreation, but it's never discussed in sexual terms. Two budding romances include kisses, but not making out.

Language

Profanity is infrequent but includes two "f--k"s in a row and a "s--t."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink beer at a pub while on a date.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Little Joe is a sci-fi drama about a woman named Alice (Emily Beecham) who struggles to balance her time between work and her teen son, Joe (Kit Connor). It plays off of the idea that when someone creates something -- like a work project -- it becomes their "baby." Here, Alice genetically engineers plants and sees her promising strain of flowers as her other child, who competes for her attention against her actual son. The story may stress out kids unnecessarily because (spoiler alert) it suggests that parents do love their work more than their children. Overall, iffy content is fairly minimal, but there are two quietly said uses of "f--k," some suggestions of violence (a violent death takes place off screen), and a couple of kisses. Themes of depression, curiosity, and integrity are in play. 

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What's the story?

In LITTLE JOE, botanist Alice (Emily Beecham) has genetically engineered a breed of flowers to trigger feelings of happiness. As her relationship with her teen son, Joe (Kit Connor), starts to strain, Alice brings home a cutting for him to nurture -- but is unsettled by the changes she soon sees in his behavior.

Is it any good?

The conclusion of this sci-fi drama could make for fairly uncomfortable family viewing. It swims in the waters of a mother's work-life balance and where she might prefer to spend her time, examining whether her love for her child is authentic. Outside of the parent-child dynamic, Little Joe is based on a clever idea that has an application in today's world. It explores the idea that people could transform into a muted version of themselves after smelling a happy plant, an astute analogy to antidepressants.

The movie's story, pacing, and mood are like a dull hum, but just as your eyes start to feel heavy, you’re awakened by the screeching score. That's not an overstatement: To suggest impending doom, the music is in a high-pitched tone that's guaranteed to make dogs howl in pain, alternated with a conga drum and recorder score (yes, recorder). Visually, every scene is awash in Pantone-popping shades that must have been chosen off of a paint color deck; they harmonize, and yet it's too much all at once. And the movie's idea feels original, until you realize it's a cliché: An inanimate object develops artificial intelligence that threatens humanity! All of that said, if the film's goal is to disturb viewers by rubbing together notions of beauty and horror, then it succeeds.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why science fiction is often used as a way to raise questions about our world and society. What are some other examples of sci-fi movies and TV shows that explore deeper themes relevant to the modern day?

  • How does Little Joe depict people reacting to mental illness? What's the importance of destigmatizing mental health care?

  • How are curiosity and integrity explored in the film? Why are these important life skills?

  • Talk about genetic modifications that are being made in real life, such as to animals and food. How might re-engineering nature create unforeseen problems? 

Movie details

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