Release date February 17, 2023
Duration: 1 hour 44 minutes
Written/Directed By: Ben Epstein Cast: Ema Horvath, Devon Sawa, Yeardley Smith, Peter Parros, Siddharth Dhananjay, Reid Miller, John Ales, Alyssa Milano
Alex has spent her life trying to figure out why she’s so unlike her family. She’s a young artist in high school struggling to get by. She’s a loner, mostly because she doesn’t have any friends her age, just her teacher. Her one friend attends another school and they only see each other on occasion. She spends every lunch eating with the teacher friend instead of trying to mingle with her classmates.
The movie begins with a glimpse into her life and struggle. We see her questioning who she is and her family. Encouraged by peer pressure, she attempts to start something with the teachers she has been friends with for a long period of time. She plans a study session with the teacher at her house while her family will be away at grandma’s for the weekend. The teachers is unsure of this idea but decides to do it anyway after Alex convinces him that they are friends and it will be fine. When he arrives at her place, he works with Alex on a book for a time before she attempts something. He is hesitant at first, and tries to create space between them, but gives in following the surprising kiss she gives him. The two are caught after her parents return home attempting to have sex. One of her younger siblings got sick on the way to grandmas and they had to turn around. This leads to Alex spiraling out of control and there is a huge fight between her and the parents.
With the decision for her to attend an all-girls boarding school, Alex is lost. She is treated differently at school after the teacher she tried to have a fling with isn’t there. When she walks in on her mom reading a letter that she quickly hides, a new idea sparks in Alex’s mind. Snooping the next day, she discovers that the man she’s called dad for years isn’t her biological father. With this new information in mind she hatches a plan to meet this man. As she soon discovers, things are not as they appear.
Now Alex’s biological father Karl is an interesting character. With him you have your typical small-town mechanic with a past he tries to ignore. He grew up with a drunk for a father that was abusive that led to Karl having some issues. He had a temper that tended to get worse after drinking as well as many other things. He does his best to fight the addiction he once had with alcohol but when Alex arrives at his doorstep with no warning he’s thrown for a loop. He continues to avoid some of his old habits until the truth of what happened with him and Alex’s mom, Judith, surfaces.
This movie touched on many themes revolving around family. For one, the lack of communication between family members was obvious. Alex was disconnected from her parents, not from lack of trying, but from her parents being wrapped up in their work lives. There was also an apparent difference in how she was treated versus her younger twin siblings. When Alex attempts to communicate with her parents, half of the time they don’t listen. When angry, her father yells, and her mother avoids.
Another focus falls into the coming of age and self-exploration category. Alex is confused about who she is and where her place is in the world. She doesn’t fit in anywhere and feels that she doesn't belong with her family. When things blow up she ventures out to discover who her father is while also discovering more of herself along the way. She makes a new friend that sparks an interesting relationship between the two and is taught a bit of what faith is. Not in the sense that she has to believe what the other person believes but in a different way.
When the truth comes out toward the end of what really happened between her biological father and her mother, pain spirals through many of the characters. Alex breaks down as she struggles to process and Karl falls into drinking again. Alex’s mother and father argue with Karl upon arriving to take her home and the two argue about things that happened in the past. Alex runs away for a second time but only to tell those she met goodbye. It also gives her a chance to stop Karl from doing something drastic.
A touchy theme that will hint at spoilers but must also be acknowledged, is the mention of rape and the aftereffects of it. This isn’t something obvious at the start of the movie but as I watched, I wondered if that was something that had happened. Maybe there wasn’t anything between Karl and Judith originally? I mean no is still no regarding the situation but did the two care for each other? While the ending left me with those question, the effects of dealing with the emotions following rape were highlighted. Alex was left trying to process all that she had learned and return to school. She was not sent to boarding school but instead enrolled in counseling. She didn’t make any new friends upon returning to her old school and rumors still circulated about her but she was in counseling. Karl was spent some time in jail for assault but came out focused. He wanted to continue to have a relationship with his daughter, but Alex wasn’t sure about that.
Her parents too were encouraged to address the issues that arose after Alex learned the truth. They both began therapy and working to be present with their kids. They also had to work through why Judith was with Karl that night at the bar to begin with. It seemed the couple had years of sweeping things under the rug to attend to and emotions were high at times.
Overall, this movie does well focusing on family and problems that arise with them. It was a sweet movie that had me absorbed from the start. It had a great cast, and the actors did a fantastic job. It was a realistic and relatable tale.
Something that bothered me after finishing the movie was the ending. I could not get past how it ended. I felt that it was a bit rushed and that life for the family after the truth was shared should have been expanded on. Things are never simple when something that heavy is dropped on a young girl. Also, what happened to the teacher? Was he fired? Did Alex’s parents file charges against him? That too was glossed over and it should have had a significant role on some of the things Alex had to work through. Alex had a lot of things happen that affected her mental health that were glossed over and I wanted to know more.
With all that I mentioned, I feel that this movie would be an excellent choice for an audience interested in family drama, coming of age, self-discovery, and mental health following traumatic events such as rape, with a rating of PG13. Some of the triggers I noticed include mention of domestic violence verbal, emotional, and physical, a range of drinking from mild to heavy, smoking, mention of rape, religion, runaway child, cursing, mention of sex, attempted suicide by police officer and bullying. I feel that it deserves a solid 4 out of 5 stars.