Parents' Guide to

The Death and Life of John F. Donovan

By Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 15+

Convoluted gay-identity drama drags; drug abuse, smoking.

Movie R 2019 123 minutes
The Death and Life of John F. Donovan Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

There aren't any parent reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say Not yet rated
Kids say (2 ):

This is one of those times when you find yourself wondering aloud how so many award-winning actors could be in a movie so bad -- and the answer may be the greatest reason to watch it. The film has a strong message: Be true to yourself. In this story's case, that message applies to an actor who denies his homosexuality, resulting in self-destruction. In the case of French-Canadian director Xavier Dolan, he too deviated from the path that brought him early notice, with The Death and Life of John F. Donovan. And he has, remarkably, admitted that, in doing so, he bit off more than he could chew in making his first English language, big-budget, big-cast film. Those high stakes led to lots of oversight by disapproving financiers and producers, and Dolan ended up spending two years editing his four-hour film down to two and cutting out the antagonist entirely. Whatever happened to get it to this place, the movie -- just like its title character -- is a mess.

The Death and Life of John F. Donovan will surely be a lesson for rookie filmmakers, but it also presents a lesson for us all. It harkens back to a time (the mid-2000s) when gossip reporting was particularly deplorable and irresponsible, pursuing celebrities like game hunters -- tracking their every move and dalliance, publishing stolen nude photos from hackers, and pushing them out of the closet in the most sordid ways. Dolan spotlights the stress that kind of scrutiny puts on celebrities. It's also a good examination of how we seek acceptance, how we may try to be someone we're not to fit in, and the toll that kind of dishonesty takes. All of the cast's A-list actors deliver -- no one gives a bad performance -- but the film's disjointed editing and the distracting, moody cinematography may make you wonder why you're even watching.

Movie Details

Inclusion information powered by

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.

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate