A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mr. Church is a biographical drama based on a real-life friendship between the titular personal cook and the mother and daughter for whom he works. Starring Eddie Murphy in his first serious role in years, the movie should appeal to teens who enjoy independent dramas. Despite solid performances, the movie has garnered criticism for falling into what Spike Lee famously called the "Magical Negro" cliche, which could feel racially insensitive to some viewers. Also, one of the subplots revolves around hidden alcoholism (a character gets extremely drunk on several occasions, and there are references to a DUI vehicular manslaughter conviction), and both teens and an adult character smoke. There are sad deaths, two funerals, two women who have babies "out of wedlock" (as it's labeled in the movie), and a good bit of strong language (including "s--t" and "goddammit") in the second half of the script.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
MR. CHURCH is a semi-biographical drama about a 10-year-old girl named Charlie (Natalie Coughlin), who wakes up one morning to discover that she and her single mother, Marie (Natascha McElhone), have a personal cook, Mr. Church (Eddie Murphy). Marie's recently deceased lover had arranged for Mr. Church to cook for Marie -- who has terminal breast cancer -- and Charlie for six months, but he ends up staying for many years. Teen Charlie (Britt Robertson) comes to consider Mr. Church like an uncle of sorts, and he's there for her during tragic and difficult circumstances again and again.
Is it any good?
Evaluated just on Murphy and Robertson's performances, this relationship drama would be worth seeing, but the problematic stereotypes and cliched storyline make it a disappointing waste of talent. Murphy's portrayal of Mr. Church is thoughtfully understated and quietly forceful, forcing audiences to look beyond the actor's comedic genius to his considerable dramatic abilities. Robertson and McElhone are well cast opposite him, with Robertson in particular proving she's a gifted young actress who's able to convey much nuance.
Unfortunately, even if you take into consideration screenwriter Susan McMartin's real-life friendship with the personal cook she grew up with (although apparently some of the circumstances were quite different), Mr. Church quickly becomes a pretty blatant example of what Spike Lee first called the "Magical Negro." Mr. Church is a wise, caring, talented African-American man (he cooks, plays piano, sews, and even cries "elegantly") whose only purpose seems to be to help a troubled white character better understand herself. What little we learn of his back story is so limited that even that only serves to further the growth of Charlie's character. It's a shame, because the actors are quite impressive. But the movie is not.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether there are racial stereotypes in Mr. Church. Why would it be of concern that the black character's primary role seems to be to help the white characters learn more about themselves? Can you think of other movies with a a similar scenario?
Discuss the idea that family isn't just who you're related to by blood, but also who cares for you on a regular basis. Why is that an important lesson?
What do you think of comedic actors who transition into dramatic roles? Who's done it well? What do you think of Murphy's performance?
- In theaters: September 16, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: October 25, 2016
- Cast: Eddie Murphy, Britt Robertson, Natascha McElhone
- Director: Bruce Beresford
- Studio: Cinelou
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship, History
- Run time: 104 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements
- Last updated: January 8, 2021
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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