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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Wakefield is an intense drama about a man having a midlife crisis who checks out of his life and spends months hiding above his garage while watching his wife and daughters deal with his unexplained absence. Expect occasional swearing (including "s--t" and "f--k") and a little bit of drinking, as well as a couple of fights/altercations and several scenes that show the main character (played by Bryan Cranston) and his wife embracing and having sex. There's no graphic nudity, but some of the sequences can get pretty racy. With its themes of marriage and self-reflection, the movie isn't likely to appeal to younger viewers.
What's the story?
Coming home from work one night, Howard WAKEFIELD (Bryan Cranston) simply decides not to. He skips walking through the door of his house (and into his family's arms) and hides out in the storage room above the garage. In other words, he checks out of living his life and instead observes it. For days, then weeks, then months, Howard watches his wife, Diana (Jennifer Garner), and twin teen daughters try to go on with their lives, with a suddenly absent husband and father. As he watches, Wakefield reveals through a series of lengthy monologues the roots of his anger. Eventually he comes to realize that these epic issues may not be as significant as he thought. Or does he?
Is it any good?
This drama is disturbing, thought-provoking, and imperfect; it's good for you but also feels disingenuous. The questions it presents -- what is the place of resentment in a marriage? what is one owed, if anything, in a long-term relationship and a family? -- are urgent, interesting, and relatable. Cranston is undoubtedly the powerhouse behind Wakefield. The film is an examination of Howard's life as a husband and father, but that examination is conducted by Howard himself, which reveals more about how his mind and emotions work than the actual truth. (Though she spends considerably less time being heard, Garner is an able partner to Cranston's masterful turn.)
Despite its strengths, there's something claustrophobic about the movie, devoted as it is to sticking to Howard's version of his life. It also requires a lot of suspension of disbelief: Could a family really never have thought to look in the attic of the garage right across the street? What about the cops? And though Howard's voiceover does reveal his own blind spots, the movie's final moments end Wakefield on a maddeningly vague note.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Wakefield portrays Howard's life and marriage. Why is he so angry with his family? Do you think his concerns are justified, or is he making them seem bigger than they really are?
Are any of the characters role models? Why or why not?
Is Howard a reliable narrator? We see his wife throughout the film, but we don't really learn how she's doing. How do you think she responds to his absence?
How does the film contrast what we hear in the voiceover with what we see -- and assume is reality? What does this say about how conflicts can have many different versions?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.