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Surprise Me!

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Surprise Me! Movie Poster Image
Generic romcom fails to surprise; some language, sex.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 103 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

All possibilities start from choice. Let life happen; "follow the flow." It's essential to deal with the past in order to move forward into the future. "Binging is not a food problem; it's a feelings problem." Eating disorders are addressed in a well-intentioned but comic manner.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Female lead is efficient, imaginative, loyal, compassionate, and honest; however, she must learn to face her fears, her unresolved feelings, and assert herself. Gay businessman is treated with respect; he's smart, capable, but the character relies on cliched behavior. Stereotypes of successful male professional and ditzy young woman. Ethnic diversity.

Violence

A fantasy punch in the face. Mention of death in an airplane accident.

Sex

Man and woman kiss, embrace, then wake up in bedroom. Making a clay penis is the focus of one scene. Some brief conversation about sex (i.e., "sex is great," "getting my period").

Language

"Ass," "bitch," "s--t," "dammit," "go pee." 

Consumerism

Costco, Twizzlers are mentioned.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Alcohol is consumed (no drunkenness); reference to a parent's alcoholism.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Surprise Me! is a romantic comedy about a successful party planner who's an expert at throwing surprising events. Based on the novel by Nancy Goodman, who is the film's writer-director, the movie gets much of its humor from those parties and from some comical parodies (i.e., a gay business partner and an unconventional therapist). On the other hand, the romance has some serious issues at its heart (i.e., coming to terms with old wounds, eating disorders, and the lingering effects of a parent's death). Viewers can expect a little swearing ("ass," "dammit," and "s--t"). A couple kiss, embrace, and wake up in the same bedroom the next morning. Additionally, there are a few sexual references ("sex is great") and a conversation takes place as a woman proudly makes a large penis out of clay. In a brief fantasy moment, a woman punches a man in the face. Alcohol is served at parties, and a character talks about his mother's alcoholism. 

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What's the story?

SURPRISE ME! is the name of an event-planning company that promises delightful surprises. Genie Burns (Fiona Gubelmann), who owns it with business partner Steven (LeShawn Banks), delivers the goods. Her sparkling personality and imagination along with his operating skills have made it a great success. Genie's romantic life, however, is a bust. It seems that dealing with the long-ago early death of her father and mixed feelings about her mom have made her vulnerable and overly cautious. Genie tries to be content with her BFFs Lori (Robyn Coffin) and Danny (Jonathan Bennett), but she's definitely missing something. When our heroine meets Jeff Bachmann (Sean Faris), a cosmetic surgeon, she's wary at first, but he's persistent, charming, and ultimately wins her over. Unfortunately, Genie's old insecurities emerge, and when they come up against Jeff's rather carefree notions about relationships, things get shaky for the couple. Torn between wanting the new romance to blossom and trying to hold onto her own identity, Genie must face the feelings she tried so hard to keep at bay.

Is it any good?

It's hard to fully engage with a film, especially a romantic comedy, when moments in the key relationship either fall flat or happen off-camera; unfortunately, this movie is guilty of both. It doesn't help matters that Surprise Me!'s major twist won't be a surprise for most savvy romcom viewers. Performances are mostly fine -- Nicole Sullivan as a mind-bending therapist is particularly delightful. The actual surprise events the company comes up with are inventive and fun. But while it's light, semi-entertaining, and nice to look at, the on-the-nose characters, routine relationship-building montage, and the fact that scenes like the crucial breakup didn't make the cut, make it less successful than it might have been.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the heavy issues Surprise Me! deals with humorously. One issue is binging. In portraying this eating disorder with a light hand, do you think the filmmakers were taking it seriously enough? Or is there something to be gained from simply making audiences aware of the problem? Was the therapist believable even though she was funny? Explain your answers.

  • In successful romantic comedies, audiences understand why the two people involved fall in love. Think about the scenes that showed Genie's and Jeff's relationship building. Was it clear what each saw in the other? Why does that matter?

  • In romcom terms, what is a "meet cute?" Challenge yourself. Create a "meet cute" for two people (fictional or real) you think might be right for one another.

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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