The Phenom

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
The Phenom Movie Poster Image
Baseball star struggles with fame in sports drama with edge.
  • NR
  • 2016
  • 88 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Being blessed with an athletic gift doesn't mean everything comes easily -- in fact, it might make other parts of life even harder, and it can be tough to figure it all out. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Hopper is really trying to figure out how to navigate the bumpy path of a newly rich professional athlete, including taking care of his beloved mom and staying in touch with his high-school girlfriend. The biggest hurdle is an abusive father, who belittles his performance and insults the team, the coaches, and everyone else around them.

Violence

A dad frequently verbally abuses his teenage son and at one point throws a (half-full) beer can at his face. A baseball player is ripped off by an armed goon in his hotel room. 

Sex

Teens kiss and flirt. One scene shows a man meeting a woman at a hotel; they head to his room, presumably to hook up, but they're interrupted before much happens. 

Language

Frequent strong language, much of it from a dad who berates his teenage son and insults everyone around them. Words include "s--t," "c--k," "bitch," "a--hole," f--k," and "c--t."

Consumerism

Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A man often drinks beer and smokes cigarettes. He suggests, several times, that his teenage son, a gifted athlete, should start taking illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Brief discussion about cocaine use.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Phenom is a sports drama about a teenage baseball star who's seeing a psychologist after losing control of his pitch. Most of the action takes place off the field, looking back at his high school years to learn how he got so good -- and see what issues might be holding him back. There's lots of swearing (including "s--t," "f--k," and more), drinking and smoking, and several unpleasant scenes that show the main character's domineering father verbally abusing him, denigrating his skills, and belittling his achievements. Teens flirt and kiss, and a hotel hook-up is implied, but the couple is interrupted before much happens.

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What's the story?

Hopper Gibson (Johnny Simmons) is THE PHENOM, a high schooler who throws a 98 mph fastball and is on his way to the pros. The biggest barrier is his domineering father, Hopper Sr. (Ethan Hawke), a one-time teen baseball star himself who's now a washed-up, bitter has-been. He takes out his frustrations by imposing special training routines on his son that cross the line into abuse. Skipping back and forth in time, the film visits both Hopper's early days as a pro who's lost control of his throw (and is reflecting on his life during sessions with a sports psychologist played by Paul Giamatti) and his time as a high school stand-out.

Is it any good?

This movie tries to hit a home run, but really it's just stuck on second base. The storyline's trajectory is obvious, the setup is all too familiar, and the climax is nonexistent. It's a pity, as the ensemble is strong, particularly Giamatti and Hawke (Simmons is, sadly, a little inert). The best sports movies make you want to cheer the main character to victory, even if it's not a literal triumph. But The Phenom isn't a natural; in sports parlance, hard training (as represented here by a dark, melancholic plot) doesn't mean great training. And talent only goes a certain distance. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Hopper's relationship with his father. Is he a good baseball player because of what his dad taught him -- or in spite of it? How does Hopper's rocky family life affect his skills on the field? 

  • Is The Phenom truly a sports movie, since little of it actually takes place on the field? How does it compare to other films about athletes struggling with wealth and fame? 

  • How does the film depict smoking and drinking? What role do they play in Hopper's treatment of others? Would you say the film glamorizes substance use at all?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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