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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The film is about persevering to overcoming dreadful adversity -- in this case, the loss of limbs from a terrorist bombing -- and growing up a little along the way. Loyalty and love are rewarded.
Positive Role Models
The main character, Jeff, is depicted as something of a charming man-child who has to confront reality after losing his legs in a terrorist attack. After much self-pitying, drinking, and neglecting his girlfriend, Erin, he comes around to recognizing the positive effects he can still have in the world. Erin is intelligent, dedicated, and good-hearted. Family and friends rally to Jeff's side, though his mother has a drinking problem and doesn't always act in his best interests. Little diversity in the movie's South Boston setting.
Violence & Scariness
The gory aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing is shown, complete with severed limbs and plenty of blood. There's also a drunken brawl.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A sensual sex scene includes brief partial nudity (bare back of woman sitting atop partner, the side of a breast -- including nipple). Also nonsexual, somewhat obscured nudity in a bath scene.
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"F--k" is used frequently. Other strong language includes "p---y," "f--got," "d--k," "a--hole," "s--t," "goddamn," "son of a bitch," and "hell." Remarks that tread into homophobia elicit some pushback.
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Products & Purchases
Costco management is portrayed in an extremely positive light.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Frequent drinking to excess. Jeff's mother is drunk in several scenes and apparently routinely drinks herself to sleep.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Stronger graphically re-creates the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, complete with severed limbs and plenty of blood. It also presents a culture in which drinking too much is a given and includes a brief sex scene with partial nudity (bare back, side of a breast). There's also quite a bit of swearing, from "f--k" to "s--t" and more. The main character (real-life bombing survivor Jeff Bauman, played by Jake Gyllenhaal) takes a long time to get there, but he eventually arrives at a better place than he first finds himself in when the bomb takes his legs. The movie's messages of personal growth in the face of adversity and the strength drawn from family and loved ones will likely balance some of the less kid-friendly elements for many viewers. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
David Gordon Green's Stronger shifts the focus from the terrorist hunt connected to the Boston bombing to an effective personal story of rebuilding yourself from the studs. (As a result, it's an unintended but effective companion piece to Patriots Day.) Bauman, who famously helped identify the bombers from his hospital bed, has every bit as tough a time adjusting to post-attack life without legs as you'd expect. The film presents him as a somewhat directionless man-child who's suddenly thrust into the spotlight and very much not ready for his close-up -- despite Patty's smothering love and the support of way-too-good-for-him Erin. The film takes an awfully long time arriving at Bauman's rise up from PTSD-fueled drinking, self-pity, and self-destructiveness, but it does get there.
But beneath the expected inspirational tale, Stronger has an interesting and effective undercurrent of guilt, mostly in the form of survivor's guilt. It's unspoken but present. Where the film is "strongest" is in its unspoken moments, actually. Green wisely makes room for his actors to breathe. Much is told in lingering reaction shots, letting us experience what the characters are feeling. This works especially well with Maslany, who turns in outstanding work as long-suffering Erin. Her performance is understated and entirely present. From the smile she can't suppress when on-again, off-again boyfriend Jeff does something charming early on, to her wordless realization that he was hurt in the bombing, and in so many other moments, Maslany is disarmingly unadorned and real. Unfortunately, the narrative isn't arranged in the most compelling fashion. It may closely mirror reality, for all we know, but as a drama, it has a bit of drift to it; it lacks drive. Still, Maslany, plus the effective Clancy Brown in a smaller role as Jeff's dad, help elevate the film.
Did we miss something on diversity?
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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