This movie is very hard to rate. First off, the trailer I saw completely misrepresented this movie, making it seem like it was a cheerful, light-hearted movie about a young girl who is offbeat, imaginative, and misunderstood. Going into the movie with this expectation threw me off because the movie is not this at all, but it takes a while to reveal what it really is about. Meanwhile, I kept wondering when the lighthearted part was going to start. It is not lighthearted. It is a very serious movie about ...
... a young girl, Phoebe, who is developing Tourrette syndrome with some associated OCD behavior. (As an aside, the Tourrette syndrome behavior pictured in this movie is pretty accurate.) She knows something is wrong but she just can't help saying and doing the things she is doing that are causing so much disruption in everyone's lives. Her mother is in denial about the severity of the problem and also blames herself for Phoebe's behavior, thinking she just hasn't been a "good enough" mother.
It doesn't help that Phoebe's been attending a school that is more about rigidity and mindlessly following the rules than it is about preserving the natural creativity all children have before they enter public school. A new drama teacher, played brilliantly by Patricia Clarkson, brings some wisdom into Phoebe's life, but ultimately there is no real happy ending. (There are hints that the teacher has a mild form of Tourrettes herself.) Phoebe has the disease, she isn't going to get better (though she might be able to manage her symptoms with medication), and that's that.
Also, Phoebe sees and talks with characters from Alice in Wonderland. That is never fully explained. Is it her imagination? Is it a different mental symptom? We never find out, though the movie seems to be leaning toward it being part of her Tourrette syndrome.
Some loose ends with her parents are left untied as well.
BUT. The acting is incredible, especially from Elle Fanning. The writing and cinematography are excellent. The pacing is a bit uneven, but overall fine. The story itself is perhaps one that needs to be told. But the movie is sad. It is a drama. It has real people behaving in real ways, for the most part, and that is also on the plus side, but it was hard to watch all the way through because it became clear that Phoebe was a train wreck happening in front of our eyes and there was nothing that was going to happen to prevent that wreck. The only positive thing is that people finally acknowledge the train has wrecked and decide to cope with it.
So, overall, five stars for the acting and the script, one star for the misleading trailer, three stars for the pacing...it averages out to three stars total. maybe three and a half.
This is not a family film. I would not have young children watch this. Teenagers and above, yes. But be prepared to talk about it and to ask some of the questions that are only hinted at.