A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this R-rated drama, which may interest teens thanks to starlets Evan Rachel Wood and Eva Amurri, explores dark, disturbing themes. The story revolves around a woman still haunted by a mass shooting at her high school; scenes from the tragedy are shown repeatedly, with plenty of blood and gore and very realistic scenes of the teen gunman shooting at victims. A teen gets an abortion, and there's also a fair amount of swearing, some suggestive scenes (one involving a couple in a swimming pool), and some underage drinking and smoking.
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What's the story?
In THE LIFE BEFORE HER EYES, Uma Thurman plays Diana McPhee, a woman still troubled by an earth-shattering event that took place 15 years ago. In high school, after hearing a fellow student rampage through the halls shooting everything -- and everyone -- in sight, Diana (played at 17 by Evan Rachel Wood) and her best friend Maureen (Eva Amurri) wound up stranded with him in the bathroom, faced with an impossible choice: Who should he kill? Told in a series of flashbacks, the movie, based on Laura Kasischke's novel, traces the weeks leading up to that moment, as the girls negotiate a best friendship that's beginning to show signs of strain. Back in the present, Diana is jumpy and tentative -- a shadow of her former self. No matter how she examines her past, it all culminates in that pivotal decision, one that makes her question her seemingly happy existence with her doting husband and feisty daughter. And with the 15-year anniversary of that horrible day fast approaching, her remembrances reach a fevered pitch.
Is it any good?
Under the direction of Vadim Perelman, the film plays like a drama tinged with mystery, maybe even the macabre. The nuns in their habits at Diana's daughter's school seem otherwordly; the leaves on the trees seem strangely crisp-edged. Suspenseful and at times morbid, the tone serves the story well enough, teasing out answers to most viewers' questions until pretty much the last minute.
But Perelman seems a little too enamored with imagery; when so much is made portentous, the impact, when you finally figure out what's happening, is actually muted. The flashbacks seem contrived; it would have been better to have allowed the story to unfurl as it happened. And just what is he trying to say with the surprise twist in the end? But there's no stopping Wood, who plays troubled teenage Diana like the expert she's become. Amurri acquits herself nicely as well, doing well with a role that could easily have been forgettable. And Thurman? She makes a commendable effort, but in the end, the film's simply too muddled to be appreciated fully.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's sensitive subject matter. Why do you think filmmakers wanted to make a film about a school shooting? Do you think they intended for teens to see it? If so, what messages do you think they were trying to send? Families can also discuss the relationship between Diana and Maureen. How is their friendship portrayed? Is it realistic? What about their friendship makes the movie's final moments so harrowing and powerful?
- In theaters: April 18, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: August 19, 2008
- Cast: Eva Amurri, Evan Rachel Wood, Uma Thurman
- Director: Vadim Perelman
- Studio: Magnolia Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violent and disturbing content, language and brief drug use.
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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