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HomeBlogPopcorn Parent Movie ReviewsFamily Movie Review: Mr. Holmes (PG)

Family Movie Review: Mr. Holmes (PG)

MrHolmes ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernal

MPAA Rating: PG       Length: 104 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 12+. Some smoking; some deaths (including a suicide, men who fought in World War II, and the mention of miscarriages) and physical harm, including a dangerous animal attack; and some disturbing imagery at the bombed-out remains of Hiroshima, Japan.

In ‘Mr. Holmes,’ Ian McKellen is nearly perfect as the titular detective, irritated with old age and concerned about losing his memories. But the film’s final message is a cliched one.

By Roxana Hadadi

As a character, Sherlock Holmes has experienced a pop-culture resurgence in the past few years as a hip, bare-boxing, cleverer-than-you detective. But “Mr. Holmes” goes the opposite route, focusing on the detective as he reaches his 90s and struggles to remember the details of the case that made him quit sleuthing decades ago. The film’s final message is stereotypically feel-good, but overall this is a gentle, affecting movie.

The perfectly cast Ian McKellen (of “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”) stars as Holmes, 93 years old and living in a remote cottage on England’s southern coast; his days are spent tending to his bees and engaging with his no-nonsense housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), widowed because of World War II, and her tween son Roger (Milo Parker). Holmes is not very much like the famous version of him reproduced in John Watson’s stories (in the film, Watson takes the place of real-life Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle), and he’s mostly averse to people and places in general. It doesn’t help that his memory is going, either.

Worried about the possibility of encroaching Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or senility, Holmes embarks on two different routes: hunting down natural remedies for his memory loss (like the royal jelly produced by his bees) and writing down the details of his final case, the one that made him quit being a detective three decades ago, to contrast Holmes’s telling of it. In doing this, he interacts more and more with Roger—who mimics everything about Holmes, including his dismissive treatment of the boy’s own mother—and flashes back to the past, when he was investigating the final case.

Back then, the job seemed simple: Holmes was hired by a man who thought his wife was planning to kill him, and as Holmes followed her around, the clues seemed to be there, involving an altered will, stolen money, and a nefarious-seeming appointment at an apothecary. But what Holmes actually learned while investigating the case, and what he seems to be learning about himself by remembering it, could change how he views himself and his purpose, even as the world seems to be moving past him.

The underlying question in “Mr. Holmes” is why we tell ourselves stories, and what we gain from fiction—what is the purpose of what is, in its most reductive state, lying? Holmes loves pointing out the ways Watson changed his mannerisms (he wears a tophat instead of a tweed cap; he likes cigars more than a pipe), but how do details like that craft a person, and what does changing them to do one’s identity? Those might be interesting questions to pose to tweens or teens seeing “Mr. Holmes” with their parents, and could help explore how young viewers see themselves and what they consider important or essential about their personalities.

Other than that argument about the impact of storytelling, “Mr. Holmes” is a fairly standard old-man-meets-young-boy-friendship-ensues narrative, which we see often in the movies, like last year’s “St. Vincent.” McKellen and Parker have a nice, natural chemistry together, but there isn’t anything particularly unique about their pairing.

“Mr. Holmes” walks a fine line between comfortable and curious—the things about the character that are familiar will draw a smile from audiences, whereas the new shades to his personality will pique interest. Ultimately, though, “Mr. Holmes” is pleasant and evocative, and in a summer movie season full of over-the-top blockbusters, a welcome change of pace.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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