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Saint Judy

Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Saint Judy Movie Poster Image
Emotionally powerful biopic about crusading attorney.
  • PG-13
  • 2019
  • 106 minutes

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

Positive Messages

Multiple scenes show characters demonstrating compassion for each other -- particularly when Judy takes on cases that others tell her are unwinnable. A long legal fight and many setbacks show the characters' courage and perseverance.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Judy Wood makes mistakes but works tirelessly on her clients' behalf. "We're helping someone who needs us, that's what we do," she tells her son when she's dragged him out of the house late to drop in on a client. Ray Hernandez learns how to be more compassionate and thoughtful over the course of the movie, thanks to Judy's example. 

Violence

A group of men throws stones at two women and their small group of female students. Viewers hear a woman's nongraphic testimony about her torture and rape, as well as a man explaining that he was raped and beaten in the same way: "Everything they did to her, they did to me," he says about his own experience. "Honor killings" are briefly mentioned but not described. 

Sex

A couple of characters flirt subtly in brief scenes.

Language

Infrequent use of words including "hell," "f--k," "f---ing," "a--holes," "pr--k," and "s--t."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A woman is given strong narcotics in jail; it's implied that this is to keep her quiet. One scene takes place at a bar where characters have a drink and toast each other. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Saint Judy is based on the true story of immigration attorney Judy Wood (Michelle Monaghan), who helped change U.S. asylum laws to protect women. Themes of courage, compassion, and perseverance are strong, and Judy emerges as an admirable woman whose hard work pays off, yet takes a toll on her life; other characters grow to be more thoughtful and hardworking thanks to her example. Violence is shown only once, when viewers see a group of Afghani men throw rocks at women and girls who are out for a walk without a male chaperone. In other scenes, a woman testifies about being raped and tortured by soldiers (nongraphic, but still disturbing), and a man says he received the same treatment. "Honor killings" are briefly mentioned but not described. Adults briefly toast each other at a bar, and a woman is given strong narcotics in jail (presumably to keep her quiet/compliant). Language is infrequent but includes "f--k," "s--t," and more.

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What's the story?

Based on real events, SAINT JUDY tells the story of Judy Wood (Michelle Monaghan), an attorney who changed U.S. asylum laws and, as a result, helped save many women's lives. Wood's story begins in the 1980s, as she moves to Los Angeles and takes a job with Ray Hernandez (Alfred Molina) processing immigration cases. There Wood learns about Asefa Ashwari (Leem Lubany), an Afghan woman who was tortured by Taliban soldiers after she taught a school for girls and spoke out about the treatment of women in her country. Despite this, Ashwari can't receive asylum in the United States because women aren't considered a protected class. Using Ashwari's case as a precedent, Wood sets out to argue that it's time for that to change.

Is it any good?

Honest and emotionally powerful without resorting to over-the-top sentimentality, this biopic brings the story of a little-known heroine to vivid life. The beats of Wood's story will ring familiar to anyone who's seen a "triumph of the underdog" story before: An outsider struggles against a seemingly immovable obstacle despite setbacks and ultimately wins the legal case / catches the ball during the Big Game / becomes a star. But the care that Saint Judy takes with the details of its subject's life makes it rise above the crowd. For one thing, the movie takes its time telling the story of the case that started Wood on her life's work. We see her making visit after visit to detention centers, sitting up late into the night poring over paperwork, presenting the case to disinterested official after disinterested official. Legal justice never comes quickly -- and this movie's decision to honor Wood's strenuous effort is realistic and adds to the power of her victory. 

Saint Judy is also honest about the toll that Wood's work took on her personal life. We see Wood's young son eating a TV dinner alone at home, waiting in the back seat of his mom's car while she drops in on a reluctant client, and, finally, moving in with his father (Peter Krause). Wood, meanwhile, is sleeping at the office, grabbing a few bites of food when she can, and working on, as the movie tells us at one point, 237 cases at once. Her work doesn't cost her a relationship with her son -- he shows up for the inevitable happy ending -- but it does cost her his full-time custody. Most movies wouldn't tell that part of a working mom's life story. But, ironically, that truthfulness makes Wood even more admirable and the film's messages more inspirational. She's not an icon or a figurehead. She's a real, imperfect woman who saw something wrong and worked hard to help. As positive messages go, viewers could do far, far worse. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the fact that Saint Judy is based on a true story. How accurate do you think it is? Why might filmmakers decide to change things in a movie that's based on fact? What resources are available that might help you learn more about the facts of Judy Wood's life?

  • Some movies have a definite political point of view. Talk about the apparent issues of concern to the filmmakers in Saint Judy. Which of them might be relevant today? 

  • How does Judy Wood demonstrate compassion? What about perseverance and courage? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

Character Strengths

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Themes & Topics

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