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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?
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?
- In theaters: December 6, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: March 10, 2020
- Cast: Emily Beecham, Ben Whishaw, Kit Connor
- Director: Jessica Hausner
- Studio: Magnolia Pictures
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Science and Nature
- Character strengths: Curiosity, Integrity
- Run time: 105 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: March 9, 2020
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