The Looking Glass

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
The Looking Glass Movie Poster Image
Moving coming-of-age tale has mature themes.
  • NR
  • 2015
  • 110 minutes

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

Positive Messages

If you are alone in the world, you have to stand up for yourself. "Sing with all your heart, and your voice will be heard." People can be imprisoned by their lives but still cling to those prisons. If you have talent you can succeed.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Devastated by the loss of her mother, Julie is depressed and distant. Karen is open, honest, and persnickety.


A girl attempts suicide by drinking poison but she survives. A woman has a heart attack and survives. Discussion about someone's cancer death. A girl pushes pizza into a rival's face.


Teenagers kiss. A woman in her 70s refers to showing a younger man "a thing or two" if she were younger. Dancers wear tight costumes and fishnet stockings.


"Bitch," "bastard," "damn." A grandmother gives someone the finger.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

An adult recounts smoking marijuana and taking LSD in his "bad boy" youth.  

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Looking Glass depicts the emotional trauma of a 13-year-old girl who has lost her mother and is sent to live with a grandmother she barely knows. Aging, adolescent sexuality, death, and coping with loss are major themes. Dancers wear tight costumes and fishnet stockings. The girl attempts suicide but survives. A woman has a heart attack and survives. There's discussion about someone's cancer death. A girl pushes pizza into a rival's face. Teenagers kiss. Expect to hear the words "bitch" and "bastard." An adult recounts smoking marijuana and taking LSD in his "bad boy" youth.  

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What's the story?

In THE LOOKING GLASS Karen (Dorothy Tristan), a woman in her 70s, is facing the early stages of Alzheimer's just as her troubled 13-year-old granddaughter comes to live with her in rural Indiana. The girl, Julie (Grace Tarnow), is devastated by the loss of her mother and further traumatized by her father's quick remarriage. In trying to break through the girl's depression, Karen urges her to audition for a local theater group. When she gets the lead in an Alice in Wonderland musical, her spirits lift. Scenes from the play-within-the-movie are well staged and choreographed, showing off Tarnow's considerable abilities.

Is it any good?

Early scenes suggest that The Looking Glass may succumb to cliché, but soon the story of a troubled teen who opens up to her grandmother reveals a moving story about aging and coming of age. Karen is a woman much like Tristan, the actress who plays her and who wrote the script. Both had stage and movie careers mostly in the 1970s and then moved to rural Indiana to raise a family. Tristan's husband, John D. Hancock, an Oscar-nominated director, presides and much of the action is set in their home. Tarnow as Julie is subtle and poised, with a practiced singing voice that cuts through the air straight to a listener's heart. Karen may be overbearing at times, but her honesty and warmth make a connection with her grieving granddaughter.

However, for all her tough love and moral support, the grandmother's insistence that Julie is destined for a successful show-biz career seems unrealistic, not to mention potentially damaging, especially given that Julie has not articulated any ungovernable passion for performing. Still, teens are likely to be drawn to Julie's character and will find lots to think about and discuss.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what the title The Looking Glass might mean. Aside from the reference to "Alice in Wonderland," do you think Karen and Julie looked at each other and saw themselves?

  • Karen suggests that Julie is so enormously talented that she will unquestionably become a successful singer. Do you think talent is all it takes to be successful? What are some other traits that might be important in achieving professional success?

  • Why do you think Julie is self-destructive? Is it because she misses her mother, or are there other reasons?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love comimg-of-age tales

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