Despite the advertising to the contrary, "Unstrung Heroes" (PG) is not funny family fare. It is a heartwarming, but sad story with just a few humorous moments told from the perspective of a 12 year-old boy growing up in 1960s New York. Steven Lidz's (Nathan Watt) happy life with his mother Selma (Andie MacDowell), his father Sid (John Turturro) and his younger sister Sandy (Kendra Krull) changes suddenly when his mother becomes ill. His father, an inventor who is quite different from the other fathers in the neighborhood, becomes emotionally distant from his children while trying to cope with his wife's possibly fatal illness. The diagnosis is cancer, but Sid tells the children that she has a bad cold. The housekeeper, whom Sid hires when his wife is too weak to manage the home, angrily tells the children that they should help more because their mother is dying. Sandy doesn't believe her, but Steven is shocked by the news. When they tell their father what happened, he shrugs his shoulders and walks away without telling them the truth. Steven, unable to live with the stress in his home, runs away to live with his two uncles, Danny (Michael Richards) and Arthur (Maury Chaykin).
Although Steven's father doesn't believe in religion, his uncles continue to practice Judaism. They are also quite eccentric. They live in a decrepid apartment filled with junk. There are high stacks of newspapers lining the walls, a closet of balls collected from the city sewer and a multitude of other items found in their neighbors' trash. Danny is afraid that anti-Semitic conspirators are after him, so he carefully bolts his door and blocks it with furniture. These strange men give Steven love, introduce him to his religious background and help him mature. When he goes home, he is able to deal with his mother's death and still find joy in life. Another mother bites the dust. Although "Unstrung Heroes" treats the subject with sensitivity, there have been a plethora of recent "family" film with similar themes. Perhaps film-makers think that they need the drama inherent in the death of a mother to compensate for the lack of violence and sex. Taking children to film after film showing dead, dying or missing mothers may take its toll on child viewers. The death of a parent is traumatic and frightening for a child. Seeing a child with a dead or dying mother on the screen time after time, can make a child viewer more fearful than he might normally be. Luckily, a parent's death does not occur as frequently in real life as it does in the current movies. Parents can help their children by explaining that or not taking them to so many films focusing on a parent's death.
Except for Steven, the male heroes in this film are portrayed as odd, or in the case of Danny, mentally ill. They are also Jewish. There is a chance that some children or adolescents seeing the film might make the association that most Jews are odd or crazy. If your children see this film, you can educate them about Jews and, hopefully, prevent them from coming to a biased view. "Unstrung Heroes" is a lovely film for adults, and some children and adolescents might enjoy it. It contains no violence or sex. It portrays a boy, who facing tragedy, is able to find strength and maturity. The film accomplishes this with warmth and a bit of humor. Parents just need to be aware of the film's areas of possible negative impact for children and be prepared to talk to their children about them.
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