The Goldfinch

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
The Goldfinch Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Art-centered drama about loss has teen drinking, drug use.
  • R
  • 2019
  • 149 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 7 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 15 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Something good can come from something bad. People live and die, but art is forever. More than messages, the movie presents questions to be debated. Themes include survival vs. resilience and the loss of innocence.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Two empathetic adults provide Theo with attention and care following his mother's death. One is the mother of a classmate who takes him in, nurtures his artistic interests, advocates for him. The other is James "Hobie" Hobarth, who becomes Theo's companion and mentor; he sees beat up, neglected items as beautiful objects of value that he lovingly restores to pristine state. Teens engage (by choice) in the arts, are interested in literature, classical music, fine art. But teens also smoke, drink, do drugs.


Main character attempts suicide. A child experiences an explosion in an art museum; he must walk through a trail of bodies and rubble. A couple instances of physical child abuse. Main character is involved in a deadly shoot-out.


Explores different kinds of love (platonic, motherly, unrequited, etc.). Couples kiss, and an engaged couple is seen waking up in the same bed. Artwork of a naked woman hangs on the wall in the background.


Liberal use of "f--k," plus "s--t," "pr--k," "twat," "a--hole," "hell," "goddamn." "Oh my God" and "Jesus" used as exclamations. 


While there's a reverence for antique furniture labels/designers, such as Chippendale, no modern-day brands are given a focus (although a container of Morton Salt is positioned prominently in one scene). 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Main character has a drug habit. Substance abuse is prevalent: Adults smoke, drink, pop prescription pills constantly. Middle school students smoke cigarettes. High school students drink beer, vodka, smoke cigarettes, take various drugs -- including a scene in which it's demonstrated how to intensify a high by cutting a pill into a powder and then snorting it. A child recovering from a serious injury shares her medicinal morphine lollipop.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Goldfinch is a drama-mystery based on Donna Tartt's 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. The story focuses on Theo Decker (played at different ages by Oakes Fegley and Ansel Elgort) and a valuable painting he takes from a museum after a terrorist attack kills his mother. The bombing and its aftermath include upsetting images; additional violence includes a suicide attempt, child abuse, and gunplay. Smoking and drug and alcohol abuse are rampant among both adults and teens; one scene demonstrates how to cut up prescription drugs to intensify a high. There's not too much sexual content, but you can expect plenty of strong language ("f--k," "s--t"). Lies, betrayals, and gambling all have consequences, and the story plays with our notions of what makes a person -- or an outcome -- "good" or "bad." Nicole Kidman, Luke Wilson, Jeffrey Wright, and Finn Wolfhard co-star.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byJackie P. March 15, 2020

Book-lovers will love it!

If you did not read the book, you will most likely be confused and bored throughout. Watching with my family I had to explain what was happening from my knowled... Continue reading
Adult Written byLuna willow December 1, 2020

For anyone (nothing sexual)

I think anyone can watch this, there is only a few cuss words and drugs but nothing really bad. I recommend this movie
Teen, 17 years old Written bythoris.clowned November 18, 2019

Read the Book.

This movie was amazing. I watched it after reading the book and found it great. I saw it with my mom and she didn't really understand most of it although s... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bylydjv September 14, 2019

Great movie

I watched the movie with my mom. It was really good, I don’t know why some critics are rating it poorly. Lots of drug use. Some language and violence throughout... Continue reading

What's the story?

In the chaos of a terrorist attack at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art that kills his mother, Theo Decker (played at different ages by Oakes Fegley and Ansel Elgort) steals a valuable painting of a goldfinch. As he grows up, Theo moves from guardian to guardian, keeping the artwork close while gathering more secrets. THE GOLDFINCH is based on Donna Tartt's 2014 bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name.

Is it any good?

Just like the antique Chippendale antique restorations that Theo sells, this movie's source material is exquisite, but the changes applied to transform the piece degrade the entire product. Not that adapting the story could ever be considered an easy task: Tartt's novel is nearly 800 pages long, and a great deal of it is Theo's internal struggle and dialogue. But unfortunately, the big-screen Goldfinch doesn't sing, it warbles -- and, at two and a half hours, you might wish you could silence it. Still, it offers quite a bit of chewy content to contemplate, discuss, and debate.

The story is a complete original, but the movie does feel like a couple we've seen before. When Theo is a child, it's like Stand by Me -- young teens bond over loss, abuse, and the unfairness of life. When he's a young man, it's more Bright Lights, Big City: A handsome 20-something New Yorker battles his demons with drugs as he tries to settle his affairs of the heart and get on the right path. The Goldfinch does boast memorable performances: Nicole Kidman's poised, proper, yet caring and protective temporary foster mother; Sarah Paulson as the chain-smoking girlfriend of Theo's actor-turned-gambler dad; and Finn Wolfhard as Theo's bad-influence best friend. It all adds up to what might be best described as an empathy hot pot -- not so much a tearjerker, but once the credits roll, you realize your heart is fully cooked.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The Goldfinch's theme of fate/destiny vs. free will/coincidence. Was Theo guided to "exactly where he was meant to be with the people he was meant to be with," or do you think he met them all by chance?

  • How does this film depict drugs, alcohol, and smoking? Are they glamorized? Are there realistic consequences? Why does that matter?

  • Do you think Theo is resilient or a survivor -- or is that the same thing? What about Pippa and Boris? How is the painting used as a metaphor as it relates to Theo? 

  • The Goldfinch is a real painting that's currently on display at The Hague. Why do you think real-world works of art -- visual, musical, and literary -- are referenced throughout the movie? Did it make you feel a greater connection to the film -- or impose a greater distance if those works weren't meaningful to you?

  • What does Theo mean when he says "We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others, that in the end, we become disguised to ourselves"? How do the characters disguise themselves to each other? Can you see parallels to that in your life or in social media?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

Themes & Topics

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