Milton's Secret

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgas..., Common Sense Media
Milton's Secret Movie Poster Image
Drama about boy learning to deal with his problems, bullying
  • PG
  • 2016
  • 88 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Don't believe everything you think. Wonder is the beginning of wisdom. Let your heart make sense of what your mind can't figure out.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Milton's parents are in financial trouble and don't pay much attention to him. When Milton's grandfather comes to stay with them, the parents make more of an effort to put Milton's needs first.

Violence

A bully beats Milton up and threatens to do worse unless Milton gives the kid a hundred dollars. A clueless dad complains to his next-door neighbor that his son is a bully and the dad socks him in the face and gives him a shiner.

 

Sex

A student notes that most rock music and Ravel's Bolero have the "same beat as sexual intercourse."

Language

"Screw" and "crap." A bully calls Milton "Millie Willie," and refers to his having a "willie in his pants."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink alcohol.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the 2016 Canadian film Milton's Secret attempts to offer guidance for adolescents facing bullying, problems at home, and other usual challenges in the obstacle course that is growing up. The movie touches on conscious parenting, as it's based on a YA novel by best-selling spiritual teacher Ekhart Tolle and Robert S. Friedman, subtitled An Adventure of Discovery through Then, When, and the Power of Now. A thoughtful 11-year-old tries to calm his fears about the future, his worries about his parents' financial troubles, and the bully next door, who makes his life difficult. With the help of a calming grandfather, Milton's parents learn to slow down and put their child's needs first, while Milton learns that his failures are just stepping stones to wisdom.  A bully beats Milton up and threatens to do worse unless Milton gives the kid a hundred dollars. A clueless dad complains to his next-door neighbor that his son is a bully and the dad socks him in the face and gives him a shiner.  Language includes "screw" and "crap." A bully calls Milton "Millie Willie," and refers to his having a "willie in his pants." A student notes that most rock music and Ravel's Bolero have the "same beat as sexual intercourse."

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What's the story?

In MILTON'S SECRET Milton (William Ainscough) is a bright and thoughtful 11-year-old who has lately been ignored by busy working parents Jane and Bill (Mia Kirshner and David Sutcfliffe). They are on their cellphones, wheeling and dealing, terrified that they won't make enough to keep their beautiful home. Milton has been secretly "practicing" alchemy to create gold in a test tube with his best friend, in the effort to bail out the family financially. Mom and Dad are too busy to notice until Milton's Bunsen burner brings the fire department to his hideout. When Grandpa Howard (Donald Sutherland) comes for a visit, it's the first time in a long time that anyone has taken the time to look at Milton and recognize his struggles, which include Carter, the bully next door, and anxiety about the future. At first Bill dismisses Grandpa as a "spoiled New Age hippie," but as Grandpa methodically clears the neglected backyard and slowly creates a beautiful floral retreat, he also slowly and softly suggests that Jane and Bill pay more attention to each other and to Milton. Eventually, the parents gain enough "enlightenment" to apologize to Milton for making him worry about things kids shouldn't have to worry about.

Is it any good?

This film is pleasant and absorbing to watch, but full enjoyment may be interrupted by a few flaws. It's difficult to know what to make of Milton's Secret's ultimate failure to provide the satisfaction it promises. William Ainscough as young Milton is a charming and adept performer but when he nods yes to his grandfather's vague and mystical advice, it leaves blank spaces that the writers and director are unable to fill. Does a bully really back off simply because Milton notices that he's just as scared of public speaking as Milton? The movie doesn't explain why Carter doesn't just give Milton a shove as usual. What changed?

Donald Sutherland gives one of his sweetest and most tender performances as Grandpa Howard.  He makes the time he is on screen enchanting and delicious, and his commitment to the role creates with grandson Milton a moving and wonderful connection that any viewer will appreciate. However, this does nothing to resolve for us the financial troubles of Milton's parents. The movie seems to end happily as if such challenges are all now in the past. Grandpa offers many soothing platitudes and advice about living in the now, but very little in the way of specific actions designed to achieve that state of mind. The movie certainly leaves viewers feeling good -- the actors convey a sense that their characters have made psychological progress, but the film doesn't show how, and young viewers will get that. The soundtrack includes several fun Donovan songs from the 1960s.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way the bullying is portrayed in Milton's Secret. Do you think that in some cases bullies are acting out on classmates the cruelties that they themselves experience in their homes? Do you think showing compassion and understanding to bullies could help? Why or why not?

  • How does the movie show how Milton's parents, who are caught up in their jobs and financial woes, realize they need to pay attention to Milton's needs?

  • What does the grandfather say and do that helps everyone see they need to make changes in their lives in order to rid themselves of anxiety? Do you think he gives good advice? Why or why not?

Movie details

For kids who love dramas

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