Fences parents guide

Fences Parent Review

Based on a stage play by August Wilson, this dysfunctional family drama feels more depressing than inspiring while examining the barriers some people build in their relationships.

Overall B-

An African America father (Denzel Washington) struggles to know what things to protect and what things to defend against in the changing world of 1950s America.

Violence C
Sexual Content B-
Profanity C+
Substance Use C

Fences is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references.

Movie Review

“Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in,” observes Bono (Stephen Henderson) to his best friend and co-worker Troy (Denzel Washington). While neither man seems to be making much progress with the wooden structure they have been asked to erect in the backyard, Troy has indeed put up many metaphorical fences in his life and personal relationships.

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Boarding off his painful past, Troy has enclosed his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and teenaged son Cory (Jovan Adepo) within his strong sense of duty and responsibility, while keeping at bay the outside world. He occasionally allows Lyons (Russell Hornsby), his older son from a previous relationship, to enter his domain even though he knows the starving musician is just looking for a handout. Only Gabe (Mykelti Williamson), Troy’s mentally challenged brother appears to have his own key to the gate, and permission to wander in and out at will.

But Troy’s rule over his carefully partitioned universe gets challenged when outside opportunities for Cory come knocking. Refusing to believe the racial prejudices of the past might be changing in 1950s America, the controlling father keeps his son penned in by his narrow perspective. And he stubbornly ignores his wife’s pleas to allow the boy to explore his own dreams for the future. When it is later revealed that Troy himself hasn’t been staying within his own strict boundaries, his family and friends start putting up walls of their own.

Most of the plot in this dialogue-heavy production follows the characters’ changing motives to either protect each other or defend themselves against one another. Frequent alcohol consumption adds fuel to confrontations and verbal threats that eventually extend into physical altercations where participants fear for their life. The script includes frequent foul language and racial slurs as well, along with discussions of domestic violence, sexual abuse, infidelity and children born out of wedlock.

Based on a play by August Wilson, the production never quite loses its stagy feel, likely because most of the scenes take place in one location. Denzel Washington does double duty as actor and director, which perhaps explains why wears his character like a suit that doesn’t quite fit. Viola Davis, on the other hand, is exceptional as the mother who personifies the posts and rails that hold the family fence together.

While this dysfunctional family drama is more depressing than inspiring, it is certain to impress at least one strong warning on those who view the film: Once you have built a barrier it is hard to tear it down, so be careful when choosing which things to encircle and which things to close out.

Directed by Denzel Washington. Starring Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson . Running time: 139 minutes. Theatrical release December 25, 2016. Updated

Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Fences here.

Fences Parents Guide

What kinds of fences does Troy build for his family members? What motivates him to construct them? Why is he discontent with being fenced in himself? How do his control issues affect those he is trying to hold onto the most?

Rose also builds fences. Why do her enclosures feel welcoming while Troy’s feel imprisoning? What motivates her to want to keep the family close? How are Rose’s views of duty and responsibility more gentle and compassionate than Troy’s? How might their differences of perspective also account for which of the two of them experiences greater joy when giving?

Why do you think Rose loves and respects her often difficult husband? What kind of loyalty does Troy show his wife? How might trails and disappointments pull a couple together? Why do they sometimes drive them apart?

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