If you’re allergic to the kind of movie that starts with a funeral and then goes into a flashback about a sensitive kid’s last childhood summer, then stay away. But audiences with an appreciation or even a tolerance of this genre will find this to be above average. It is based on a story by Stephen King. There is some tension and an element of the supernatural, but this is King’s coming of age mode (“Stand By Me”) and contact with an extraordinary character mode (“The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile”), not a horror movie.
It is summertime, and Billy has just turned 11. His mother’s birthday gift is not the bicycle he dreams of but an adult library card. She is quick to remind him that they have very little money, since Billy’s father died leaving them with unpaid bills and no insurance. Billy’s friend Carol points out that his mother buys new clothes for herself, but Billy defends her, saying that she has to look good for work.
A stranger comes to live above Billy and his mother. His name is Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins). He hires Billy to read him the newspaper and watch out for “the low men,” who wear hats, drive fancy cars, and leave odd messages in code on telephone poles. Billy thinks Ted is a little loony, but he agrees, at first because he wants to earn money for the bicycle, and then because he is drawn to Ted’s warmth, humor, and even to his strangeness. He begins to see signs of the low men, but he does not tell Ted. He knows that when Ted hears that the low men have come, he will have to leave.
Billy gets a chance to see through Ted’s eyes, which may be weak when it comes to reading but which see important things very clearly. When Billy touches Ted, he gets a little bit of Ted’s ability to somehow “know” things. All of a sudden, in the next room, Billy can tell that what Ted is wondering about is his cigarettes. And a surprised three-card monte shark (well-played by “A Knight’s Tale’s” Alan Tudyk) finds that Billy can tell him where the Queen of Hearts is without even looking at the cards. Even more important, though, is that way that Ted, like all special grown-ups in the lives of children, guides Billy to a new knowledge of himself and the world. Ted helps Billy realize that his friend Carol is more special to him than he thought, that he deserves better treatment from his mother, and that the town bully is not as powerful as he thinks.
Parents should know that there is some strong language, characters are in peril and some are injured, and a character is raped (inexplicit and mostly offscreen). A character is wrongfully accused of molesting a child. A bully who accuses others of being “queer” turns out to be acting on his fears about his own sexuality. Fighting back is portrayed as heroic. There are a couple of chaste kisses.
Families who see this movie should talk about the grown-ups who inspired them the most, and might also want to discuss how we decide whom we will trust.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Stand By Me – Special Edition(some mature material).