We Don't Belong Here

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
We Don't Belong Here Movie Poster Image
Dysfunctional family drama with violence, mature themes.
  • R
  • 2017
  • 92 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

A classic example of Leo Tolstoy's observation: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Ultimately shows that even families with the most intense challenges can unearth the means and motivation to survive. Promotes honesty, open communication, and trust in the face of lifelong struggles.

Positive role models & representations

Characters are forced to deal with tragic circumstances, mental illness, and the effects of ongoing miscommunication. They often appear to crumble in the face of adversity, but a measure of resilience helps them begin to overcome their family's hardships.  

Violence

Several tragic accidents and an act of violence occur. A character attempts suicide by plummeting from a window. Car accidents result in injuries and presumed fatalities. Sexual assault on a child is implicit. Spoiler alert: a sympathetic character shoots and kills a detestable man. 

Sex

The plot (and lots of conversation) centers on multiple issues related to sex: sexual assault of a minor, homosexuality, a teen's first sexual experience, an abusive male-female relationship. Teens engage in pre- and post-sexual activity (no nudity). Kissing and embracing occur in a variety of gender relationships.

Language

Occasional swearing and profanity: "f--k," "hell," "ass," "s--t," "boobies," "get laid."

Consumerism
Drinking, drugs & smoking

Characters smoke, drink, use prescription medication. Multiple characters have bipolar disorder and use prescription drugs. Teens smoke marijuana.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that We Don't Belong Here portrays a modern-day, broken family in crisis. Bipolar disorder, struggles with homosexuality, teen sexual awakening, and the dire consequences of miscommunication lie at the heart of this intense drama. The Green family must confront old hurts and dark secrets. Violent sequences include: tragic car accidents, a suicide attempt, gunfire, and several murky memories of a sexual assault on a child. Characters (including minors) drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or marijuana, and/or are reliant on prescription medications. Sexual situations are part of the tapestry of the story: a teen couple is shown before and after a first sexual experience; there is both heterosexual and homosexual kissing and embracing. Occasional profanity is heard ("f--k," "s--t," "ass," "boobies," "get laid"), and frank sexual conversations take place. Complicated, deeply intimate, and often confounding, this very mature movie is not for kids. 

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What's the story?

Narrated by youngest daughter, Lily (Kaitlyn Dever), WE DON'T BELONG HERE moves between each member of the complicated, troubled Green family as their stories unfold. Matriarch mom, Nancy (Catherine Keener), widowed years earlier with her children, is struggling to understand and accept her four kids as young adults. With more than one of them diagnosed as bipolar, a homosexual son in crisis, an estranged pop singer-daughter in a destructive relationship, and a young teen dealing with both her illness and a budding sexual drive, Nancy is barely coping. She finds solace only in her relationship with longstanding best friend, Joanne (Maya Rudolph). Nancy becomes increasingly shaken when she can't contact son Max (Anton Yelchin). In a nonlinear format, significant action sequences mix with unsettling dreams and visions, along with revelatory flashbacks involving a traumatic sexual assault, to find these profoundly troubled characters trying to survive. 

Is it any good?

Sincerity and strong performances aren't enough to make this complex story, with its many disturbing events and deeply troubled characters, coherent and satisfying. Peer Pedersen, in his first directorial effort, works with his own script as he tries to illuminate some of the weighty issues that challenge 21st century families. He uses a variety of cinematic devices to tell his tale in We Don't Belong Here. Some work, at least to a degree. Others are misleading and further obscure what is already a perplexing plot. A particularly jarring sequence, which requires the actors to reach great depths in their performances, ends up as a dishonest exercise. One can applaud the efforts and integrity of the creative team, but still report that there's simply too much packed into this bleak story of a disintegrating family to make it rewarding. Noteworthy as one of actor Anton Yelchin's final performances. Not for kids. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the meaning of a "nonlinear" storytelling. In what ways was We Don't Belong Here an example of this kind of narrative?

  • Flashbacks, dreams, visions, and flash-forwards all contribute to this film's uniqueness. However, did inventive and interesting ever become confusing?  When and why?

  • The writer-director took on the challenging task of portraying multiple, complex people in this film. Do you think he was successful? Why or why not? Did Lily's narration help clarify events and characters for you?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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