A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Small Group is a 2018 faith-based drama in which a documentary filmmaker is sent to infiltrate a small church group. Unlike some faith-based movies, this drama doesn't sugarcoat or gloss over mature content. A mother gives birth to a stillborn child. While in Guatemala, characters witness and stop the near-rape of a girl sold into sex slavery. A character is pistol-whipped, and then the gun is pointed at his head. The characters are flawed, know that they're flawed, and try to use church and the Bible to improve themselves, as opposed to using religion as a weapon to judge others and act sanctimonious. A neighbor chews tobacco, walks around with an assault rifle, and talks about going to the shooting range where new targets that look like "Obama bin Laden" have arrived. Wine, beer, champagne, shot drinking. Implied cigarette smoking in a flashback scene (not shown). Some humor concerning huffing kerosene, riding the "short bus," and flatulence.
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What's the story?
In SMALL GROUP, R. Scott Cooper is a documentary filmmaker who's moving his family from California to Georgia for his latest project. A shady producer has hired him to film an expose on the hypocrisy of Christians and "the dwindling influence of Christianity in America." Reluctant to make such a slanted "hit job," Cooper initially declines, but no money in the bank, a $10,000 bonus from the producer, and the announcement that his wife Mary is pregnant with their second child leaves him no choice but to make this movie. Cooper dons a pair of camera eyeglasses and goes to the nearest megachurch, where he and Mary are soon matched with a small Bible study group of their own. Instead of hypocrisy and self righteousness, Cooper finds a sense of community and friendship he had never experienced before, and Mary's new friends encourage her to follow her dreams and open her own yoga studio. After a last-minute injury sidelines one of the group members, Cooper accompanies members of the small group to Guatemala, where he finds deeper meaning and purpose to his faith and his life. But upon returning, as the news of Cooper's initial ulterior motives becomes known, Cooper must find a way to prove to his new friends that he's sincere in his newfound faith and in his loyalty to the group.
Is it any good?
This is so much better than many faith-based movies, which can sometimes feel heavy-handed and preachy to nonbelievers. The actors here can actually act, and the dialogue feels natural. And perhaps the most surprising thing of all is that there are actually some genuinely funny moments to the movie, especially when the characters show that they can laugh at themselves and their world.
All of this should make Small Group an entertaining experience for faith-based viewers. Of course, that leads to the inevitable question: Will those who are not faith-based viewers enjoy this? While it's impossible to speak for such a vast and diverse audience, it's difficult to imagine this resonating with viewers very far beyond the movie night socials of the friendly neighborhood megachurch. For one thing, the movie observes and addresses some of the foibles of Bible study groups and those who participate in them, and there are a lot of inside jokes that may be unrelatable to the nonreligious. That said, Small Group is way above the curve, and faith-based families are certain to enjoy it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about faith-based movies. How does Small Group compare to other Christian-themed stories?
Do you think people who aren't practitioners of Christianity would enjoy this movie? Why or why not? Who do you think is the intended audience?
What were some of the themes and conflicts in the movie, and how were they expressed?
- In theaters: October 18, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: October 6, 2020
- Cast: Sterling Hurst, Emily Dunlop, Matt Chastain
- Director: Matt Chastain
- Studio: Limesoda Films
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Activism
- Run time: 121 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic material including brief violence and drug references
- Last updated: December 19, 2020
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