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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Stresses importance of empathy, integrity, perseverance. Explores how people must be true to themselves instead of pretending to be something for show. One storyline reveals the value of taking ownership of your actions and accepting the consequences. Also values redemption and not giving up on people you love.
Positive Role Models
Bri is intelligent, talented. She loves her family and friends, wants to help take care of them if she can, whatever that entails. Jay loves her children and wants to protect them, honestly. Aunt Pooh takes responsibility for her actions, encourages Bri not to follow in a false direction. Bri's best friends, Sonny and Malik, are loyal and kind to her. Supreme seems to mean well, but his motivations and methods are flawed.
Most of the cast is Black, as are the writer and director. Female characters have agency and propel the action. Themes of racism and prejudice are central, including racial profiling and brutality by authority figures. Movie emphasizes importance of showing that facing challenging life circumstances doesn't mean people can't still feel loved and have their needs met. Two gay teen characters (one is assumed to be heterosexual because of his music career). The movie, like the book, reflects upon how some White people prefer stereotypical portrayals of Black entertainers.
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Violence & Scariness
A teenage girl is wrestled roughly to the ground and pinned there by school security officers. Gun violence and threats of gun violence. A gang member points a gun at a girl, later cocks it and pushes it directly at her chest before robbing her. Two gang members kick and punch an unarmed young man. People show their weapons to each other at a club. During a protest at a school, security officers are hurt and take cover.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A few kisses between teens. References to a mother doing sex work. One rap battle between two young women includes jokes and insults about sex appeal, bra/breast size, butt size, and "poonani" (female genitalia).
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Occasional strong language includes "a--hole," "bitch," "s--t," "damn," "ass," "thug," the slur "d-ke bitch," "poonani," etc.
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Products & Purchases
Car brands such as Cadillac and Chevy.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Background drinking at clubs. Jay is recovering from substance abuse and looks longingly at a drug buy before going to a meeting. Lots of rap battles feature references to her drug use.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that On the Come Up is based on author Angie Thomas' bestselling book, which is set in the same fictional neighborhood as her earlier The Hate U Give. The movie (co-star Sanaa Lathan's directorial debut) is a tribute to fighting for your dreams and being true to yourself even when external forces want you to change. Expect drug references, as well as occasional strong language ("a--hole," "s--t," and "d-ke"). Violent scenes include characters brandishing guns, or, in the case of two gang members, committing armed robbery after beating up/striking two unarmed teens. There's also an upsetting encounter between a student and two school security officers (they wrestle her to the ground and pin her there). Later, there's a protest against the security officers, who cower from the angry crowd. Romance is limited to a few kisses between teens. Families with teens will have plenty to discuss, from the racism and prejudice that Black teens face to the ways in which entertainers of color can feel pressured to portray themselves in stereotypical ways to appeal to mainstream (i.e., White) audiences. Messages include the importance of empathy, integrity, and perseverance. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This good if not great adaptation of Angie Thomas' sophomore novel features a couple of standout performances. But it lacks the impact of The Hate U Give, which was also based on a Thomas novel. In the On the Come Up book, there was time to draw out the various ways in which Bri's life is in flux: her mother, her incident with the security officers, her sense of being targeted, her desire to be a famous rapper, her continuing grief over the loss of her father and a stable home, etc. But despite its nearly two-hour runtime, the movie glosses over some of those storylines and, as a consequence, some characters (particularly Bri's friends and Aunt Pooh) don't feel as nuanced as they do on the page. Jay, who's played by director Lathan, does have an appropriately prominent role. And Gray is credible as Bri, who's motivated more by a need to protect than a desire for fame and fortune. Lathan captures Bri's confusion, anger, and creative delight, even if the execution falters a bit with some unnecessary inner monologue that doesn't always work.
The supporting cast is packed with talent, particularly the charming Michael Cooper Jr. and Miles Gutierrez-Riley as Malik and Sonny, Bri's best friends (and, in Malik's case, crush). Cooper gets a few big scenes and conversations, but Gutierrez-Riley is underused (surprising, since the screenplay already completely cut a couple of other friends who were present in the book). Because the book is so beloved, it's easy to be hard on the adaptation. And the film is definitely more formulaic than the book in its approach to Bri's character arc. But it's still very much worth seeing, particularly for teens, and serves as an important reminder that entertainers can be selling a persona to their fans -- and that the perception of some artists can be rooted in racist stereotypes. Beyond the messages about popular entertainment, this is a universal story about being yourself, loving your family, and staying true as an artist.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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Our Editors Recommend
Movies with Inspiring Black Girls and Women
Movies with Strong Female Characters
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.See how we rate