The Water Man
Touching family drama explores love, friendship, and loss.
The Water Man
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Water Man, actor David Oyelowo's directorial debut, is about Gunner Boone (This Is Us's Lonnie Chavis), a boy who tries to track down a local folk legend in order to save his sick mother (Rosario Dawson). This family drama is tween-friendly overall but does contain a few disturbing moments of brief peril, occasional language ("damn," "B.S.," "crap"), and discussions of cancer, death, and child abuse. Scary scenes include a creepy-looking folk legend, a moment when a boy looks like he's going to fall into rapids, an instance when a girl pushes a boy down on the ground, and a brief encounter with bugs that kids have to run away from in a hurry. Amid the serious themes are messages about honesty, courage, compassion, and teamwork, as well as the importance of strong parent-child relationships.
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What's the Story?
THE WATER MAN follows young Gunner Boone (Lonnie Chavis), who's moved to a small logging town in Oregon with his mother, Mary (Rosario Dawson), and father, Amos (David Oyelowo), who recently returned from being stationed in Japan. Mary is quite sick with cancer but has kept the full truth of her diagnosis from Gunner, who spends most of his time reading and drawing a graphic novel about a ghost detective. After Gunner discovers that his mom has leukemia, he's desperate to find a way to help her beat the odds. When he hears a neighborhood girl named Jo (Amiah Miller) say that she's seen "the Water Man," Gunner's curiosity leads him to research the legend and talk about it with a local funeral director (Alfred Molina), who explains that the story is about a miner who found a special rock that brought him back to life after a flash flood killed him and his wife. He supposedly still haunts the area looking for his dead wife to resuscitate. Gunner offers Jo money if she's willing to escort him to where she last spotted the Water Man, hoping to find him and convince him to help Mary.
Is It Any Good?
Oyelowo's directorial debut is a short and sweet family drama/adventure. Lots of family films focus on silly, easy laughs, but this one is like a thoughtful middle grade novel come to life. It's reminiscent of book adaptations like Bridge to Terabithia, where there's a little bit of magical realism, a stellar cast -- including thoughtful child actors -- and a whole lot of heart. Chavis, who's so good as the younger Randall on This Is Us, delivers a standout performance as the earnest, talented Gunner. Dawson is well cast as Mary, who's trying to shield Gunner from the ugly truths of her cancer. Maria Bello pops up as the town sheriff Amos enlists once Gunner runs away with Jo, but she's somewhat underserved in the role.
Oyelowo's faith is evident in the movie's themes, particularly in two touching scenes: one where Gunner and his mom discuss what happens when you die, and another in which the family prays a prayer of thanks together. But the movie's themes are universal, promoting the bond between parents and kids, honesty between friends, and facing your fears with grace and courage. The soundtrack is effective, featuring Miller singing the haunting "The Water Man Rhyme" in a pivotal scene and Jessica Oyelowo (David's wife) singing "My Son" and "What Love Does." Oyelowo shows promise as a director; here's hoping he can do it again, continuing to focus (as he's reportedly said) on the positive representation of Black and Brown families in film.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about The Water Man's messages about loss and family. Why do you think many movies have been made about dying mothers?
Do you consider the movie violent? Scary? What parts upset you, and why?
What is the Water Man trying to teach Gunner? What does Gunner learn from his journey trying to find the Water Man?
How does the movie promote courage, compassion, and teamwork? Why are those important character strengths?
- In theaters: May 7, 2021
- On DVD or streaming: May 25, 2021
- Cast: David Oyelowo, Rosario Dawson, Lonnie Chavis
- Director: David Oyelowo
- Studio: RLJ Entertainment
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Courage, Teamwork
- Run time: 91 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic content, scary images, peril and some language
- Award: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: February 17, 2023
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