This is a perfect family film for a rainy day as fall knocks on the door.
The main character, Amber Appleton (played by Auli’i Cravalho), struggles with homelessness alongside her abused, alcoholic mother (Justina Machado). This story has all the ingredients for a modern-day YA fairy-tale, with the added depth provided by song, poetry, and drama utilized at various times by the students as a means to rise above circumstances.
The director has chosen key scenes from the novel, authored by Matthew Quick, to compress time and move the plot rapidly keeping viewers engrossed; and he connects jumps in time with an off-beat, occasionally fun, and otherwise melodramatic soundtrack. This is not a sugary Disney film; it could appeal to a more serious teen.
The musicality of the film is similar to “Pitch Perfect,” with less singing and more somber notes. The themes explored through dialogue, setting, and characterizations are: race, homelessness, poverty, abuse, child neglect, disability, death, and grief, offset by the light of hope, resiliency, dreams, and aspirations. Additionally, it was refreshing to see the depiction of affluent people of colour alongside those who struggle, as opposed to the film industry’s racial stereotypes of the past.
Recommended for children aged 10 and up; suitable for family viewing.
Director: Brett Haley
Writers: Marc Basch, Brett Haley, Matthew Quick (novel)
Actors: Auli’i Cravalho, Carol Burnett, Justina Machado, Judy Reyes, Fred Armisen
Running Time1h 32m