Wish You Well

Movie review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
Wish You Well Movie Poster Image
Well-shot, moving drama uplifting but has lots of tragedy.
  • NR
  • 2015
  • 100 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Integrity, loyalty, family, community, tolerance, forgiveness, second chances, moving on from grief.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Great-grandmother Louisa is strong, fiercely loyal, and incredibly accepting and fights for what is right. Some adults are portrayed as mean-spirited, selfish, greedy, and abusive. Most kids are portrayed as complex but well-intentioned and ultimately sweet; wayward kids are shown with complexity and compassion.


Flashbacks of a car accident that left a father dead show broken glass, a bloody body hitting the ground; a boy dies in an explosion (death not shown); a woman has a stroke, falling to the ground, then dies in bed later; a woman spends a large part of the film in a haunted, catatonic state; a few scenes of children fighting or bullying, including punching and kicking each other, later shown with black eyes or busted lips; a group of men punch and kick another man; several guns are pulled on others to intimidate or shot as warnings.


"Hell"; an African-American character is called "hell no" by the townspeople; some era-specific language, such as referring to adult African-American men as "boys."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Man smokes a cigar.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Wish You Well is a slow-paced, character-driven drama based on the David Baldacci novel of the same name with lots of heavy themes concerning loss, grief, tragedy, racism, and small-town politics. Tense scenes include guns being pulled on others or shot as warnings, some kids fighting, a few scenes of death (one in a car accident, another peaceful) that leave two kids potentially orphaned, an abusive father, and racist attitudes, all of which create a more menacing or somber tone than an explicit show of violence. An African-American character is called "hell no" by the townspeople, and there's some era-specific language, such as referring to adult African-American men as "boys." It's beautifully shot with provocative storytelling but best for older kids who can handle the heaviness.

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What's the story?

The loss of their father in a car accident and their mother's resulting mental trauma leave Lou and Oz in the care of their great-grandmother, Louisa (Ellen Burstyn) in Virginia. There they learn to fit in, navigate school bullies, grieve their father's loss and mother's illness, and help to fight against the local coal mine's efforts to take their family's land.

Is it any good?

This is a bleak drama about a family enduring a number of tragedies -- the death of a father and a mother's illness -- and a great-grandmother's fierce determination to defend her land and legacy. In the midst are a number of dramatic encounters, from bullying and abusive parents to racist hatred and power grabs that favor the rich and well-connected over the honest and hard-working. 

There's a lot to enjoy here, from the beautiful Virginia landscape to the lush cinematography, and the characters are tough, enduring types who don't seem to let much get them down. But you're still watching kids grieve the loss of their parents and find their way to a truth they can grab hold of, and the persistent heaviness that hangs over the film and its slow, unfolding pace will make it tough for most kids to sit through.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Wish You Well''s belief in miracles. Do you believe in miracles? Do you think what happened in this movie could really happen? Why, or why not?

  • How are race relations different now than they are in the time period of the movie? How are they the same?

  • Do you think Wish You Well accurately portrays the South during this time? Why, or why not?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

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