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What's the story?
UNSTRUNG HEROES centers around Steven Lidz, the son of Sid (John Turturro), a distracted inventor who "believes in documentation" and empirical data. Steven is closer to his warm-hearted mother, the emotional center of the family. When she becomes ill, he goes to live with his father's two brothers (Michael Richards and Maury Chaikin), both borderline (and sometimes more than borderline) mentally ill. They are hoarders, paranoid, and delusional. But they love Steven very much, and see in him a strength and ability to be great that he finds very comforting. They rename him "Franz" because they think it suits him better than Steven. Franz picks up some of his uncles' peculiarities, but also draws strength from them. They encourage him to connect to his heritage by studying for his bar mitzvah. And his uncle's fascination with objects inspires him to hold on to a bit of his mother by collecting small items that make him feel close to her. When she dies, he retrieves hours of "documentation" (film of experiments and family home movies) from the garbage. He and his father watch them together, and, with the uncles, begin to document the family again.
Is it any good?
Based on the autobiographical novel by sportswriter Franz Lidz, Unstrung Heroes is a quietly moving story of a boy growing up in the midst of incomprehensible loss. Perhaps it is the very incomprehensibility of it all that makes his uncles seem understandable by comparison. Or perhaps they just have a less frightening way of being impossible to understand. To Steven, they are almost like children, and they have time for him, which his parents don't. They have answers for him, which no one else does. They see him as "Franz" and "Franz" is who he decides he wants to be.
This is a movie about loss, but more than that it is a movie about families, and the acceptance of family members who are not always easy to understand. The movie also raises the question of faith. Sid is relentlessly scientific and is furious that his brothers have encouraged Franz to study Judaism. He tells them that "religion is a crutch, only cripples need crutches." But Franz's mother, dying, says maybe Franz is right.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Steven gives up instead of giving his speech. Why does Steven decide to go live with his uncles? Why do his parents let him?; Why do Sid and his brothers have different ideas about religion? What does "documentation" mean, and why is it important here? What does Sid mean by an "undisciplined mind"?
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