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 thoughtful drama -- which celebrates the diversity of other cultures -- explores the hot-button issue of immigration. There's a little bit of swearing and some drinking, but overall the content is age-appropriate for teens, though very sensitive kids may be upset by the fact that the story doesn't spare the heartbreak that comes when families are separated abruptly. Characters pay dearly for their mistakes, even accidental ones. It's clear that the filmmaker has a strong point of view about U.S. policy since 9/11, but he attempts to be fair and even-handed.
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What's the story?
Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) is alone. A middle-aged professor at Connecticut College, he's not depressed, but his life is soulless and boring; he's lost his wife, his passion for teaching, and whatever vitality he may once have had. When he's sent to New York City to deliver an academic paper, he finds an immigrant couple living in the apartment he keeps but rarely visits. It turns out that both parties have been victimized in a fraudulent rental scam -- still, a warm but tentative friendship begins between Walter and Syrian musician Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), despite the wariness of Tarek's Sengalese girlfriend. When Tarek is arrested (basically without cause), the authorities discover that he's living in the United States illegally. Walter becomes his new friend's advocate and is drawn into the bureaucratic fog of the immigration system, with heart-rending results.
Is it any good?
Writer-director Tom McCarthy accomplishes a near miracle with THE VISITOR. He delivers a powerful, satisfying movie about racial politics and government missteps without any accusations, one-sided arguments, or rage. By telling the tender story of Walter's life-affirming reawakening through his relationship with Tarek and his family, McCarthy humanizes people who have made this country their home without the benefit of legal documentation.
Longtime character actor Jenkins' performance in his first "starring" role is perfection. Walter is nuanced, intelligent, and completely honest. And each of the other actors brings his or her own special artistry to difficult but sympathetic roles. As he did in his first directorial effort, The Station Agent, McCarthy tells a wonderful story about decent, hardworking, sincere people. This time around, it just happens that some of them weren't born here.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the wide range of attitudes toward people who are in the U.S. illegally. How do you think the filmmaker feels about the immigrant characters he has created? What contributions do they make to their adopted country? Does this movie change any of your ideas about people and families from the Middle East and Africa? What about immigration in general? What do you think the movie's final message is?
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