A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete is both wrenching and stunning. With heart-aching reality, it chronicles the lives of two kids who suffer from slipshod parenting and live in terrible circumstances. There's drug addiction (an adult shoots up right in front of her son and his friend), violence (children are assaulted, and a drug dealer rules the neighborhood with menace; though viewers don't see a lot of brutality, they feel it), and crushing neglect, all of which might prove intense and difficult to process for young teens and tweens. Expect strong, frequent swearing by both adults and kids (including plenty of "f--k"s and "s--t"s) and a scene that, though the participants aren't fully seen, depicts oral sex that's witnessed by a child.
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What's the story?
School's out, and the summer is off to a horrid start, with Mister (Skylan Brooks) getting an F that nixes his chances of being promoted to high school. Worse, his mother, Gloria (Jennifer Hudson) -- who's utterly consumed by making enough to money to score her next fix -- won't listen to his pleas to get clean and stop working the corner. Gloria's friend has dumped her own 9-year-old son, Pete (Ethan Dizon), at her doorstep, but of course, Gloria's not the one who's left to care for him. When Gloria is arrested for possession and other violations, Mister is left to fend for himself, with Pete in tow. But the housing project they live in is besieged by drug dealers like the one his mom works for (Anthony Mackie), robbers (who are circling Mister's adult-less apartment), sexual predators, and snitches who want to report Mister and Pete to Child Protective Services and get them hauled off to a juvenile facility that sounds nearly as bad as their present circumstances. Mister thinks a successful audition at a cattle-call for child actors is his escape, but how will he eat and stay safe until then? And will an old neighbor (Jordin Sparks) come to his aid?
Is it any good?
Dramas told from a child's point of view -- What Maisie Knew, for instance -- can be especially poignant in the hands of the right director. (Otherwise, prepare to be pummeled with obviousness.) Luckily, THE INEVITABLE DEFEAT OF MISTER & PETE had George Tillman Jr. at the helm; he clearly has the rare ability to allow tough-but-brilliant material to speak for itself. He lets his leads, Brooks and Dizon, do their thing, resisting the urge to milk the pathos out of every scene they're in, no matter how miserable the setup. And there's plenty of misery here -- negligent moms, dangerous circumstances, children in peril.
Brooks and Dizon exhibit a preternatural maturity while still, unlike more seasoned actors, acting like the kids they are. They exude innocence, especially Pete, against all odds. The results: exceptionally affecting performances that rival those of experienced thespians. (Brooks, who makes his debut here, recalls Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild, if the Southern Wild were transported to Brooklyn.) But apart from the acting, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete is memorable because while it doesn't adopt the sometimes-impassive nature of a documentary, it approaches that genre's devotion to authenticity. The lives depicted here are as real as it gets. It's plenty brutal, but hope springs wherever it can -- and laughter, too, though rarely. Sometimes, you expect more from some of the film's key players -- Mackie seems regrettably underused, as is Jeffrey Wright as a homeless veteran -- but Tillman Jr. lets the kids take the lead. And it's just about perfect.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete portrays parenting. Is Mister's mom a bad mother, a victim of her circumstances, or both?
Is Mister immune to the pressures of his environment, or has he already begun to be affected by it all? How? What of Pete? How does he maintain his innocence?
What role does violence play in the movie -- and in Mister and Pete's community? Is it presented realistically? What are the consequences?
- In theaters: October 11, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: February 4, 2014
- Cast: Anthony Mackie, Ethan Dizon, Jennifer Hudson, Skylan Brooks
- Director: George Tillman Jr.
- Studio: Code Black Films
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship
- Run time: 108 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language, some drug use and sexual content
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