*Review without spoilers*
I don't usually write reviews, but I feel compelled to, given how disappointed I was with all the reviews posted so far. To be clear: the film is not confusing in the slightest. It would be a bit of a stretch to call this an intellectual's film. There is a plot twist, and there are a couple of clues along the way, but it's not littered with them. Viewers do have to pay attention and listen for expressions with double meanings at times, but it's *not* a Darren Aronofsky film.
The story is about a gay teen from California visiting his rural extended family with his parents. He is warned upfront to keep his sexual orientation in the closet due to local conservative values. However, the boy soon finds himself in a highly volatile situation resulting from unsupervised activity with his young niece. During the uproar, tensions between the boy's mother and the girl's father suggest that there's more to this story than meets the eye. The film follows the boy's perspective, allowing the viewers to share his confusion and fear until the truth finally comes out.
Let me state this clearly: This film is *not* about sexual abuse. It is a poorly selected story element, but not the central message. (More on this in the spoiler section.)
Overall, the film was poorly written in a few places. For example, the movie starts with the teen and his parents repeatedly calling their relatives "the Nebraska family" instead of simply showing a "Welcome to Nebraska" sign along the highway and talking about them as a typical family would. And although the boy is naïve at the start -- which I find understandable given his age -- both he and his parents fail to learn from their mistakes, stripping the film of believability. Also, anyone from the Midwest will quickly notice the lack of religious rhetoric, muted hostility when tension flare, and relatively tame microaggressions. However, the biggest problem with the film was that the plot was far too contrived to be believable.
Initially, I felt like the film threw homosexuality under the bus for its primary cause, but I now realize the significance. (Again, see the spoiler section.) I also found its use of society's hypersensitivity to child sexual abuse as poorly judged. While they aimed to elicit a powerful reaction from the audience, it backfired, causing too many people to shutter their minds and respond viscerally before discovering the film's core message.
All in all, I do recommend the film, and hence gave it an 8/10. I appreciated the daring it took to address the central message, which I agree is essential. Unfortunately, Westerners still carry too much baggage from their puritan days, leading to a severe problem with immaturity and close-mindedness regarding human sexuality. This film is a decent start at addressing some of these topics, though they could have been done a better job with a more plausible plot.
As I said above, this film is *not* about sexual abuse, though it is used as a story element. So, for those who don't understand the movie, allow me to clear the air.
The film starts with a false assumption/accusation of sexual abuse. Obviously, the story involved sexual abuse, for the uncle must have taught his daughter about the sexual game the boy's mother had played with him as a little girl. But again, sexual abuse was a story element, not the story itself.
As others have noted, there appears to be a plausibility issue with the film's plot. Aside from the characters' gullibility, the convenient timing of the young girl's first period and how it fed into the uncle's plot seemed unbelievable. However, another way of interpreting this is that the unfortunate coincidence allowed the uncle to hatch a vengeful plot after cooling down from his initial reaction. It would explain the uncle's dramatic change in behavior around the teenager the following day and his daughter's sulky attitude after reemerging from her room. (This assumes the uncle abused his daughter by teaching her the sexual game and coercing her into assisting his plot.)
There is no ambiguity in this story. Early on, it's hinted that something happened between the boy's mother and his uncle in the past. During the uproar, the uncle pointedly tells the mother that he doesn't want her "playing doctor" with his daughter, a subtle double entendre for checking his daughter's wellbeing and sexual exploration. Based on her facial expression and emotional reaction, the mother clearly understood. Later, after the little girl rubs against the teen, the uncle explains that the boy's mother used to play the same masturbation game with him when they were young. He later got punished for it, even though he claimed that it was her game.
The story was about childhood masturbation, the trauma resulting from the overreaction of parents to this natural stage of development, and the lifelong consequences it can have on self-esteem and relationships. Although the behavior is not universal, it is widespread. In this case, a brother and sister explored their sexuality together at a very early age, long before they understood what they're doing. Tragically, their punishment and shame resulted in a rift between the siblings, leading to the brother's plot to get revenge for his humiliation.
As the boy explains to his mother at the end, the message is that she did nothing wrong as a kid. Masturbation and sexual exploration are normal. The message was particularly poignant coming from a gay teen -- a minority that only recently has been allowed to embrace what was once taboo.
The theme comes out in the opening scene, where the mother insists that the boy remained closeted during the visit. Yet, while she sweeps taboo sexual practices under the rug, her son represents the sexual openness our society needs, not just for LGBTQ but for the full range of human sexuality.
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