The Public

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Public Movie Poster Image
Inspiring story about homelessness has some mature content.
  • PG-13
  • 2019
  • 122 minutes

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Asks viewers to look at homeless people compassionately, as human beings rather than huge, insurmountable problem. Offers positive view of public libraries as places full of wonder and riches, as well as safe havens. Discussion around idea of carbon footprint. Brief cultural slurs (from "crazy" homeless person). Brief images of hate crime (Nazi symbols).

Positive Role Models & Representations

Potential spoiler alert: Viewers eventually learn that Stuart is formerly homeless man/recovering drug addict who's turned his life around by focusing on his library job and doing things like growing food, restoring damaged books in his spare time. He's kind, empathetic toward unsheltered people in his community (although he is, understandably, squeamish about certain things related to homelessness). In the end, he makes a choice that favors the greater good.


One character punches another. Police presence. Spoken reference to police shooting. Characters die (from exposure). Spoken violent references.


Large group of naked males: bare bottoms shown, sensitive parts covered. Kissing.


Uses of "s--t," "bulls--t," "a--hole," the "N" word, "ass," "bitch," "son of a bitch," "douche bags," "piss," "hell," "damn," "screwing," and "for God' sake."


Apple iPhones shown.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A secondary character is said to be a drug user. Main character is recovering drug user. Man drinks from small bottle of booze. Discussion of opioids.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Public is a drama about a group of homeless men attempting to spend the night in the Cincinnati Public Library during a brutal cold snap. Emilio Estevez wrote and directed and stars as the librarian who must make a hard choice. Uplifting and inspiring, the drama takes a warm, compassionate look at the problem of homelessness and simultaneously celebrates public libraries. That said, it does have some mature material. Language includes sporadic uses of "s--t," "a--hole," "bitch," and more; characters kiss; and a large group of naked men is shown (their bare bottoms are visible). A secondary character is said to be a drug user, a main character is a recovering addict, and a man drinks from a small bottle of booze. One man is punched, a character dies from the cold, and there's a tense police presence, as well as some violent dialogue.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byLittleLune810 April 14, 2019

Solid social justice film

The appropriate age level for your children to watch this will depend on your personal values and how comfortable you are explaining/discussing tough social, ec... Continue reading

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

In THE PUBLIC, as an Arctic storm makes its way into Cincinnati, librarian Stuart Goodson (Emilio Estevez) heads to work at the public library. The usual group of homeless folks waits out front, looking to get out of the cold. Stuart tries to get his co-worker Myra (Jena Malone) promoted to the literature section and strikes up a possible romance with his building super, Angela (Taylor Schilling). But Stuart also may lose his job due to a lawsuit surrounding the ejection of a particularly pungent homeless man. As the day wears on, it's discovered that one of the homeless regulars has died from the cold. Homeless man Jackson (Michael Kenneth Williams) begins to ask why they can't declare an emergency and spend the night in the library. As the situation turns into a tense standoff, the district attorney (Christian Slater) turns up, as does a police detective (Alec Baldwin) who's searching for his own drug-addicted son. Can Stuart save the day?

Is it any good?

Writer/director/star Estevez achieves a career high with this empathetic look at homelessness, concentrating on a rousing, inspiring story, rich characters, and a fluid, detailed visual style. The Public inspires obvious comparisons to another Estevez movie set in a library over the course of a single day (The Breakfast Club), and while the two movies are both highly entertaining, The Public is slightly more ambitious. Unlike those behind so many other "message" movies, Estevez understands that ideas are best conveyed within the context of a good story. The Public doesn't try to lecture or solve the problem of homelessness; instead, it presents it on a very human level, with humor and heart.

Estevez's character, Stuart, is one of his best performances. Stuart is a nervous, wounded man with a hidden reservoir of strength and hope. The rest of the strong cast members rise to the occasion, with character actor Williams standing out and stealing most of the movie. As director, Estevez uses the library setting in a dynamic way, keeping the story flowing and the visuals moving, while his screenplay has a variety of satisfying riches and details. The Public should leave viewers smiling and, hopefully, with a fresh view on both homelessness and the local library.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The Public's depiction of drug use and abuse. Does the movie take a positive, healing view of these things? Is it hopeful? Are drugs glamorized? Are there realistic consequences?

  • How does the movie portray homelessness? Are unsheltered people treated with compassion?

  • Do you visit your local library regularly? Does the movie make libraries look more appealing? More interesting? Less so?

  • Is Stuart a role model? Do his positive actions make up for his faults -- and his checkered past? Is he someone to emulate?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

Character Strengths

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