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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Good Liar is a fraud/scam drama based on Nicholas Searle's novel about a con man and his target. Widow Betty (Helen Mirren) meets a gentleman (Ian McKellan) through an online dating site. Viewers quickly realize that he has insincere intentions: When not charming her, he's taking a meeting at a strip club (topless dancers wear only G-strings) or being physically violent with an adversary. Overall, the violence feels more extreme than the movie calls for, with some brutal altercations and grotesque deaths. Betty is quite sharp and displays admirable self-control, including setting sexual boundaries despite efforts to persuade her otherwise. But the movie also includes assault and rape. And very few scenes don't involve drinking (wine, champagne, scotch, etc.) -- something is always on the table or in the hand of an elegant adult. Profanity isn't frequent, but it is harsh ("bitch," "f--k," "s--t," and more).
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What's the story?
Based on the novel by Nicholas Searle, THE GOOD LIAR introduces viewers to Roy Courtnay (Ian McKellan), who finds wealthy widow Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren) on an online dating site and can't believe his luck. His goal is to steal her life savings and disappear into his own retirement. But as Betty brings him into her home and introduces him to her family, Roy starts to develop real feelings for her and isn't sure he can carry out his plan. It turns out, though, that Betty has her own secrets and might not be the easy target she seems.
Is it any good?
Bill Condon's thriller has been described as a game of cat and mouse, but "labyrinth" might be a better description. Each reveal doesn't build upon clues but rather diverts into an entirely different direction. You can see something coming, but it's definitely not the twist. To some degree, The Good Liar is a mystery, with the audience trying to guess what Roy has up his sleeve and hoping that naive, trusting Betty has something up hers, too. But a mystery is like a game show: The audience plays along at home. And if Pat Sajak suddenly told you that "B-RD" was actually "CAROUSEL," you'd be up in arms and might never watch his show again.
To that end, this film really is about how life is a "wheel of fortune," showing how one selfish, bad act can change the course of many lives. But buried among the reveals are a myriad of other stories worth telling, which could be movies on their own merits. In fact, Roy and Betty go see Inglorious Basterds, and viewers see an extremely violent moment from that film: Hitler getting destroyed by machine guns. But why? Perhaps to set the tone for the gory violence that's on the way (which also begs the question, why?). There's no doubt that The Good Liar is primed for Boomers and their parents -- there's really not much for kids here -- but who signs up to see two of cinema's icons match wits and also wants to see someone's face get horrendously blown off? The battle of maneuvers is intriguing and leaves the audience with a temporary moment of satisfaction, but as they watch the credits and rethink the plot, the words on their mind will likely be "but why...?"
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in The Good Liar. Was it what you expected in a movie like this? How does the impact compare to what you might see in an action movie?
Why is the ability to forgive an important life skill? Who benefits the most from forgiveness: the forgiver or the forgiven?
How does Betty demonstrate self-control? Why is this an important life skill? Why is self-control often tied to patience?
There's a saying: "If you tell the truth, it becomes part of your past. If you tell a lie, it becomes part of your future." How many times does this play out in the film? What does it mean to you?
- In theaters: November 15, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: February 4, 2020
- Cast: Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Jim Carter
- Director: Bill Condon
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters
- Character strengths: Self-control
- Run time: 109 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: some strong violence, and for language and brief nudity
- Last updated: April 17, 2020
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