The Brooke Ellison Story

Movie review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
The Brooke Ellison Story Movie Poster Image
Stirring tale of quadriplegic girl's fight has heavy themes.
  • PG
  • 2005
  • 91 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

The Brooke Ellison Story conveys strongly positive messages about family dedication, perseverance, determination, hope, and courage, particularly in the face of traumatic injury and disability. There are especially strong messages about attitude in determining the course of our lives and the importance of community support for those with disabilities.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters are fairly well developed, with many of them showing extraordinary determination and positivity. Supporting characters are shown facing realistic struggles in the face of managing a family member with devastating injury.

Violence

The film has some minor violence and peril surrounding the car accident that leads to Brooke's injuries, which is only shown after the fact. In that scene, a young girl is shown lying in the street with bloody legs and feet. Peril surrounds her transport to the hospital, where her face is shown as bruised and battered, with swelling and some blood. There are several scenes of hospital worry, with descriptions of injuries, such as a fractured skull and broken arm. Multiple depictions of a child in a coma and hooked up to IVs and EKGs are shown, and there's some peril related to the use of a breathing ventilator and the struggle to breathe when it's removed. A risky surgery is discussed but not depicted. There are multiple shots of x-rays depicting traumatic spinal injury.

Sex

There are a few very brief scenes of a man and woman kissing. A man kisses a woman on the neck briefly. A man and woman kiss in a car. A young man gives a girl a kiss on the dance floor.

Language

Very minor insulting language, such as calling something "gross" or referring to someone as "stupid."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One brief scene of casual smoking by an adult.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Brooke Ellison Story recounts the true story of an 11-year-old girl who was hit by a car as she was walking home from school and suffered severe spinal cord injuries, becoming a quadriplegic on a ventilator for life. The accident itself is not shown, but there are brief scenes of an injured girl's transport that include some blood, as well as multiple scenes of recovery, hospital worry, frank medical discussions, and her required care's impact on her family. The story's message is inspirational and uplifting, but mature themes make it inappropriate for very young kids. 

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What's the story?

Walking home from school, 11-year-old Brooke Ellison (Vanessa Marano and Lacey Chabert) has a life-changing moment when she's hit by a car and suffers a devastating injury that paralyzes her from the neck down, rendering her unable to breathe without a ventilator or survive without round-the-clock care. With her loyal mother Jean's (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) nurturing and her father Ed's (John Slattery) encouragement and, eventually, the aid of her entire community, she manages to accomplish one dream after the next in spite of those obstacles, from returning home with her family to completing school and even attending Harvard.

Is it any good?

THE BROOKE ELLISON STORY is a remarkable tale. Directed by Christopher Reeve and released just after his death, it's an extraordinary example of how little disability can hinder you from accomplishing what you want in life, as well as the story of one mother's enormous self-sacrifice to ensure her child's success. But there's an even bigger message about a kind of disability we all carry -- our attitudes -- and the film addresses how much influence they have over the course of our lives.

That's a rich message that will carry through even for parents and kids who find this a tough watch. The story is a difficult one, but it's also a relentlessly positive one that opts for courage over despair. It can, at times, veer into the sentimental, but it does take the time to show some of the more realistic aspects of care for a loved one with a severe disability: the piling-up medical bills, the exhaustion, the disruption for other family members who feel neglected, the risk of divorce, the obstacles sometimes from within your own community about what's best for your child. The performances from veteran actors here are a big plus, and the result is a film that works diligently to show an accurate but ultimately uplifting portrait of disability and struggle. These are heavy themes, but, for kids who are old enough, pondering such questions can be rewarding.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about accuracy. Do you think the film accurately showed what it's like to care for someone with a spinal cord injury? Why, or why not? How might the film have been more realistic in terms of the struggles the family likely faced?

  • What was your reaction to Brooke and her mother Jean's attitudes in the film? How did their attitudes change everything about the impact of the situation on their lives?

  • Brooke was never teased in the film for being different. Do you think that's a realistic portrayal of disability? How are people with disability treated in your community?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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