[Screen It]


(1999) (Robbie Norman, Colin Firth) (PG-13)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Mild Minor Moderate Mild Minor
Mild Minor Mild None Moderate
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
Heavy Mild Heavy Mild Mild

Drama/Comedy: The mysteries of adulthood intrigue a ten-year-old boy growing up on a pre-WWII Scottish estate, especially when his uncle's marriage to a much younger and liberated woman stirs up strong emotions amongst those in his home.
Fraser Pettigrew (ROBBIE NORMAN) is a ten-year-old boy growing up on his grandmother's immense Scottish estate, known as Kiloran House. While his inventor father Edward (COLIN FIRTH) runs his moss farm there, its Fraser's grandmother, Gamma Macintosh (ROSEMARY HARRIS), and mother, Moira (MARY ELIZABETH MASTRANTONIO), who rule the manor. Filled with animals and children, including Fraser's older sister, Elspeth (KELLY MACDONALD), as well as a large staff, the estate is far removed from the world and serves as a place of wonder and bewilderment for the young boy.

At the age when more adult thoughts and feelings slowly begin to replace his innocence, Fraser begins to question his father's rules and place in the world. A nonstop inventor, Edward is devout to both God and Beethoven, but Fraser soon begins to realize there's more to the world and life as an adult than his father's nebulous explanations would lead one to believe.

This especially comes true when uncle Morris (MALCOLM McDOWELL) shows up. A successful businessman, Morris has never liked Edward nor the way in which he runs Gamma's estate. Things become more complicated, however, when Morris announces he's to marry Heloise (IRENE JACOB), a worldly French woman half his age who draws the attention of everyone at Kiloran, including both Fraser and his father.

Although she contradicts everything he believes in, Edward can't resist the young woman, a fact that stirs up the family's already confused emotions. As Fraser notices this and becomes aware of his own attraction to Heloise along with his awakening sexuality, he begins seeking answers about the way he feels.

Unless they're fans of someone in the cast, it's highly unlikely.
For sexual content, including some nude pictures.
  • ROBBIE NORMAN plays the inquisitive 10-year-old who wants to know more about sex and enjoys looking at the drawings of nude women he's discovered in his grandfather's old books. Beyond that, he's a relatively good mannered boy, although his confusion about more adult matters often leads to him making some embarrassing comments.
  • COLIN FIRTH plays his somewhat eccentric inventor father who becomes smitten with Heloise and tries to put the moves on her. As a result, he creates a great deal of tension in his marriage.
  • ROSEMARY HARRIS plays the family matriarch who unintentionally gets a bit tipsy after unknowingly eating some "spiked" food.
  • MARY ELIZABETH MASTRANTONIO plays Fraser's caring mother who gets mad at his father when she learns of his romantic/sexual longings for Heloise.
  • MALCOLM McDOWELL plays the wealthy uncle who doesn't like Edward and wishes to usurp/disrupt his control of Gamma's estate. He also marries a young woman at least half his age.
  • IRENE JACOB plays the liberated young French woman who marries the much older Morris and draws the romantic attention of both Fraser and his father.


    OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
    Based on the autobiography of a British TV executive, the occasionally cute but ultimately less than involving "My Life So Far" is as disjointed and fractured as one would imagine a person's recollection of their life as a ten-year-old would be. A coming of age/loss of innocence period piece, the film has a few interesting scenes, a random laugh or two, and is refreshing in that the child protagonist isn't of the Hollywood manufactured "Home Alone" smarty-pants variety. For the most part, however, it's otherwise instantly forgettable. As such, expect a brief and extremely limited tour of theaters before making a quick trip to the video shelves for this one.

    All of which is too bad considering the film's cast and crew, and in particular, the director. Known for being rather selective about his film projects, Hugh Hudson has only made a handful of movies in the past two decades, most notably "Chariots of Fire" and "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes." However, one can see why he may have been enamored with this film since it takes place in a similarly more innocent and exploratory time as did those other pictures.

    Yet where those films are compelling, this one never feels completely congruous enough to hold one's attention. Events and characters come and go with little rhyme or reason, including the narrator's repeated claims of not fearing heights that never later pays off as one expects. There's also a biplane pilot who stops by twice without any apparent reason or related payoff, and the mysterious "hairy man" who makes a few brief appearances before later -- an inexplicably -- being pulled drowned from the local lake.

    Taking into account the rumors that the film has been in and out of the editing booth for the past several years as the filmmakers repeatedly tried to make it "better" and/or ready for release, one imagines that explanations and/or more footage regarding those and other incongruous scenes were present at one time.

    Of course, the film must be reviewed as it stands as a finished product. As such, the result is that it appears Hudson and playwright-turned screenwriter Simon Donald (who's adapted the book, "Son of Adam" by Sir Denis Forman) never try to offer any explanations for many of those scenes. Instead, they appear more intent on randomly allowing them to flow forth like fractured recollections of what the narrator's life was like as a preteen.

    While there's some inherent charm and quaintness to that approach, the filmmakers don't stop there. Instead, they then take it upon themselves -- particularly early in the film -- to force feed the audience so many capricious moments -- that are supposed to show the family's mild eccentricity -- that one imagines they had the "How to be Quirky" manual close by throughout the shoot.

    While they've somewhat succeeded at creating such an atmosphere and some fun standalone scenes, the effects feel nothing short of manipulative and extremely forced. Whenever a group of animals -- in this case, dogs -- is employed to stare in unison at the follies of their human "masters," one immediately senses the filmmaker's hand and realizes that the picture is either in trouble, or has lifted such moments from films of a bygone era, such as "The Little Rascals."

    That said, some may enjoy such quaint qualities and the film's old-fashioned feel. Fortunately for the rest of us, that forced approach as well as many of the random and seemingly detached scenes are thankfully less present later in the film as the plot finally settles down into more of a traditional, linear story.

    While the whole matter regarding the family politics and the father's straying of the heart serve as the moderately interesting backbone for the film, the moments concerning the boy's quizzical and stumbling transition from boy to young man are the most entertaining.

    Today's kids, of course, grow up so fast and with so much "information" immediately available to them -- whether from friends, the Internet, TV, etc... -- that they often know far more than we did when growing up at the same age. That's why Fraser's "ancient" and occasionally misguided and misinformed efforts to figure out the adult world are both funny and disarmingly charming.

    Playing that young boy, newcomer Robbie Norman delivers a completely likeable and winning performance. Never annoyingly precocious or irritating like many child characters are presented nowadays, Norman perfectly plays how many probably imagine an inquisitive, but properly mannered child of yesteryear would behave. His performance is not only believable, but quite enjoyable and is clearly one of the film's highlights.

    As far as the adult performances, they're generally okay. As the quirky father facing his own midlife crisis, Colin Firth ("Shakespeare in Love," "The English Patient") delivers a mostly entertaining take and at least gets some dramatic arc with which to work. Much like the character she embodies, Irene Jacob ("The Double Life of Vernonique," "Othello") brings a somewhat mischievous -- and certainly welcomed -- playfulness to the proceedings, and besides Norman gets to play one of the film's more enjoyable characters.

    Others, however, such as Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio ("Limbo," "The Abyss") playing the faithful wife and Malcolm McDowell ("Star Trek Generations," "A Clockwork Orange") as the dastardly "villain," have rather straightforward character trajectories and don't get much of a chance to build upon them, although both deliver competent takes on their characters.

    If the film had taken another -- or actually perhaps one less -- trip to the editing booth, it may have been much better. While it has a somewhat winning and overall quaint charm going for it -- that may or may not annoy certain viewers based on its forced nature, the fact that it's often so fractured and incongruously assembled ultimately prevents the audience from ever fully getting wrapped up in its offerings. Although some viewers will like it simply for being and/or having that old-fashioned feel, we simply wish it worked better than it does. As such, we give "My Life So Far" a 4.5 out of 10.

    The following is a brief summary of the content found in this PG-13 rated drama/comedy. The rating comes from sexually related material and nude pictures of women. The former involves some discussions of sex, "wet dreams" and the boy's curiosity about that adult subject, while the later includes drawings, paintings or engravings (but no photos) of naked women that Fraser ogles.

    The father of the story becomes attracted to a young woman half his age and thus threatens his marriage and family, while the woman's husband constantly belittles the father and attempts to usurp his role on the family estate.

    Profanity rates as a moderate due to some slang terms ("slanking") for sex (with other mild profanities and colorful phrases also present), while some drinking and smoking occur at various moments during the film.

    Beyond that, however, the remaining categories are mostly void of any major objectionable material. Although it's doubtful many kids will want to see this film, should you still be concerned about its appropriateness for them or anyone else in your home, you might want to take a closer look at the listed content.

  • The local minister drinks from a flask during church.
  • As Fraser recounts how Morris met Heloise, he says that his uncle had a whiskey and soda.
  • Morris has a drink and then tells Edward to stop putting the liquor away so that they can be hospitable to some arriving guests.
  • People have wine with dinner, and after Moira pours some for the local priest, he later seems somewhat drunk. In addition, the cook tells one of her aides to get the sherry. We then see her holding a glass of it, as well as Gamma who appears a bit tipsy after eating several servings of "spiked" food.
  • Edward walks in and sees Fraser trying to act like an adult, sitting with a lit cigar in one hand and a brandy glass in the other (filled with what looks like milk).
  • Although neither gory nor bloody, we see a dead man pulled from under the water.
  • Morris constantly belittles Edward and his activities, and neither man likes the other.
  • Edward, despite being married, tries to put romantic moves on Heloise (he tries to kiss her), but she refuses his advances.
  • Upset at his father, Fraser throws his father's Beethoven busts into the lake.
  • Some may not like a priest being shown as a drunk/alcoholic.
  • The cook spikes some of the family's food with sherry (and gets fired for doing so).
  • In a scene set several years before the rest of the movie, young Fraser crawls out onto the window ledge high above the ground and then makes his way around the huge estate, terrifying those below him. While it's mainly played for humor, some may find it a bit unnerving.
  • A disheveled and unkempt man suddenly surprises Fraser in the woods who then runs away in fright. Later, we see that man being pulled from under the surface of a local lake, recently drowned.
  • The ice of a frozen lake suddenly breaks and Gamma falls into it and must be rescued.
  • Explosives: Used by Edward in "mining" the moss he's growing (we see several explosions of dirt and moss).
  • Shotguns: Carried by the men as they head off to go hunting and by an older man as he walks with Fraser through the woods.
  • Phrases: "Slank" and "Slanking" (sexual), "Bugger," "Bloody" and "Bonkers."
  • As a much younger boy, Fraser crawls out onto a window ledge and then around the top of the roof line.
  • Fraser and his friends go skinny-dipping in the local lake.
  • A disheveled and unkempt man suddenly surprises Fraser in the woods who then runs away in fright.
  • A mild amount of such music occurs in a few scenes.
  • None.
  • At least 7 uses of the sexual term "slank," 1 slang term for breasts ("t*tties"), 6 damns, 2 asses, 2 uses of "bugger," 1 hell, and 2 uses of "Good Lord" and 1 use each of "Oh my God," "Jesus Christ Almighty," "Dear God" and "Good God" as exclamations.
  • Fraser comments on someone proposing to a young woman, "Fancy slipping upstairs for a slank?" (sex) and then he and several other boys repeat the word.
  • We see Fraser (the 10-year-old) run down a dock, drop his towel/robe and jump into a lake completely nude. As such we see his bare butt, as well as those of two of his friends (and we also see brief glimpses of their penises from the side) as they do the same.
  • Fraser reads an inscription from the front of one of his grandfather's books that includes the author of the passage saying there were many things they wanted to teach the recipient and that the thought of that aroused them.
  • Fraser looks through pictures in another of his deceased grandfather's books that show classic paintings/drawings of nude women including bare breasts and brief full frontal nudity.
  • He then comments that he found an article on prostitution and states that it was one of the most interesting things he'd ever come across. He (and we) then look at more pictures/engravings of nude women that show more bare breasts, and he mentions that the book/article mentioned what to do if one would accidently see pictures such as those (ie, suggested masturbation).
  • We see Fraser's bare butt as he jumps into a lake again.
  • When the maids talk about a woman visitor who's dressed like a man, Fraser comments that she's probably a lesbian (although he doesn't really know what that means).
  • Not knowing what he's really saying and referring to ways the family could raise money, Fraser says during dinner that his mother and Heloise could become prostitutes and "service" his father, uncle and anybody else.
  • Fraser playfully asks a young maid who bathes him (no nudity) whether "slanking" is something secretive and done in private. He then playfully splashes water on her clothed breasts and comments (in voice over) that she's better than his grandfather's pictures (of nude women).
  • One boy complains that another boy touched his sister's "ass" and "t*tties."
  • Fraser goes off with another boy who's promised to show him something "amusing." As such, they sneak a peak at a bull mating with a cow (briefly seen) and a young girl then joins in their observation.
  • In a voice over, Fraser mentions an "orgy" and we then see him under the covers looking at more "girlie" pictures with a flashlight (bare breasts).
  • Edward talks to Fraser about having "good dreams" and then waking up with the bed all wet. Fraser initially confuses this with bed wetting, but his dad then comments on "feeling something well up inside you" and Fraser equates this to volcanic magma. He then asks his father what an orgy is and wonders if "fellatio" is "something like a trombone that angels play in Heaven." Embarrassed, Edward says that they're "temptations of the flesh" and Fraser then wants to know what that means.
  • Fraser mentions that a biplane pilot wants to dance with his older sister because all he has on his mind is "slanking." He then ponders "who'd want to slank Elspeth?"
  • Fraser asks Elspeth what it meant when someone said his father's hands were all over Heloise. She then replies that it's "carnal knowledge" and he then asks if that's a sin. She says that she doesn't know and he then asks if it's like "slanking." She then says that's something you do with someone you love. He then asks if she did it with a biplane pilot and she tells him that's none of his business.
  • Fraser looks at more nude drawings/paintings.
  • Edward smokes several times (once with a cigar to blow smoke in a demonstration model chimney), while Morris also smokes, as does a visiting woman.
  • Edward walks in and sees Fraser trying to act like an adult, sitting with a lit cigar in one hand and a brandy glass in the other (filled with what looks like milk).
  • We occasionally see an advertisement-laden vehicle drive by that has an oversized, smoking cigar on its roof.
  • Gamma, somewhat unintentionally drunk, breaks down and says that she misses her deceased husband.
  • Edward's attraction to Heloise and his continued feud with Morris create some tense family moments (especially with Moira mad at Edward for the way he's acting and their children seeing all of this, not knowing what's going to happen next).
  • A family member dies and we see the grieving survivors.
  • Edward's attraction to Heloise (and that he's married and she's much younger).
  • Fraser's curiosity about the opposite sex and sexual matters in general.
  • A young maid slaps Fraser after he playfully splashes water on her clothed breasts.
  • Fraser and another boy struggle and wrestle on the floor at a dance.
  • We briefly hear and see the silhouette of Edward taking his belt to Fraser and another boy (for getting into a fight).
  • Morris backhands Edward and the two then struggle on the floor before being separated.

  • Reviewed June 23, 1999 / Posted July 23, 1999

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