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 movie has very mature themes. A teenager murders a developmentally disabled boy. Characters drink (reference to alcohol abuse), smoke, take drugs (a teenager is addicted to heroin), and use extremely strong language. There are sexual references and situations.
What's the story?
Leland (Ryan Gosling) seems like a reasonably pleasant and easy-going kid. And then one day he kills a developmentally disabled boy, the brother of his girlfriend. It isn't that no one seems to know the reason. It seems that there just was no reason. Leland had always been polite to everyone and kind and gentle with the boy, volunteering to walk him home from school. A cop dismisses Leland as just another SFK (sick f-ing kid). But he does not seem angry or violent or unstable. He does not even seem upset. He is cooperative, truthful, and placid. In the juvenile facility, teacher and frustrated writer Pearl (Don Cheadle), is intrigued and decides to write Leland's story. Leland's father (Kevin Spacey) is a successful novelist who can write sensitive stuff, but is aloof, even merciless in his interactions with other people. He can't help Leland, but he can stop Pearl from exploiting his story. But Leland wants someone to listen, and Pearl is all he has.
Is it any good?
THE UNITED STATES OF LELAND is an overly plotted but beautifully acted movie. The script has the overheated, overblown, over-everything feel of an actor's exercise extravaganza. Each character has some major emotional challenge and it gets overloaded and distracting. But the individual moments, especially Gosling's performance, are sensitive and moving and the issues of the damage we inflict on ourselves and each other are worth examining, even less than successfully.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Leland showed no emotion about what he did. Why was telling the story important to him? Why was it important to Pearl? What did Leland's father want for Leland? Why was Mrs. Calderon so important to Leland? What does the story of Pearl's name tell us?