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Recommended age 8-18
88 minutes
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With compelling performances and a story emphasizing brains over social status, Popular Theory is both a heartfelt story of friendship and innovation that young viewers will love. Erwin (Sophia Reid-Gantzert), a young genius named for Nobel Prize-winning physicist Erwin Schr�dinger, is the youngest student in high school and a bona fide loner. She enjoys spending time on her own doing complex science experiments so much that her aunt and father, who raise her, grow concerned and place a science plan on her. But when she meets fellow genius Winston (Lincoln Lambert), they team up to evade the ban and invent a pheromone that threatens to upset the natural order of high school.

Lincoln Lambert and Sophia Reid-Gantzert's dynamic is my favorite part of Popular Theory. At a young age, both actors seem to have mastered the art of owning their character, whether it's the micro-gestures of disgust, awe, sadness and hypochondria that Lambert portrays as Winston or Reid-Gantzert's comfort being Erwin. It's truly a delight to see them interact on screen as they transition from rivals to "colleagues," to friends, and as forces push and pull them apart. I'm a Lincoln Lambert fan, having spoken to him about his film Language Arts and having discussed his creative process. But I have to admit that Reid-Gantzert steals the show. That's largely because the screenwriters (Ali Scher and Joe Swanson) have crafted a teen movie that, thankfully, doesn't turn into a rom-com halfway through. Too often the archetype of the wannabe teenage girl eager to change herself exploited. Yes, there's an element of that trope in the film, both in Erwin's character and in Erwin's sister, Ari (Chloe East). But Erwin always stays true to who she is and takes pride in her status as a genius without coming across as too egotistical -- a good role model for young viewers. On another note, the dynamic in Erwin's home reminds one a bit of Matilda, with her aunt and father looking at her as some freak-of-nature genius. Some comical and unexpectedly sentimental moments come from Aunt Tammy (Cheryl Hines), who's an eccentric hairstylist. Erwin's father, Arthur (Marc Evan Jackson), stricken by the grief of losing his wife, feels a little like a prop character mainly because of a lack of screen time. He isn't given much to work with in terms of dialogue or emoting. I wonder how the film would be affected if Erwin was only raised by her aunt. The direction and production quality are other highlights. The few moments dragging the film down are wooden performances by secondary characters, but those are overshadowed by the strength and integrity of the plot.

Popular Theory shows how dangerous instantaneous popularity can be and comments on the ethics of using technology for personal and social benefit. Making change through friendship and positivity can make the high school experience and life better in more ways than one.

I give Popular Theory 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 to 18. Popular Theory released in theaters on February 9, 2024.

By Eshaan M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 18

Popular Theory highlights the idea that friendship is all about chemistry! The movie shows the negative aspects of popularity and how a positive charge or change through friendship can make the high school experience, and life, more meaningful.

Erwin Page (Sophia Reid-Ganzert) is a 12-year-old genius at Magnolia High School and suffers from social isolation. Her formative years were spent primarily alone with her scientific experiments and books were her friends. Erwin's Aunt Tammy (Cheryl Hines) is certain that science is stunting her social development and with Erwin's Dad (Marc Evan Jackson) empties her room of all science materials to force her to interact with others. The situation is made worse in opposition with her popular older sister Ari (Chloe East) which contrasts the difference in the girls' social positions. High school can be depicted as survival of the fittest where popularity is all that matters to the student body. Erwin is disturbed when new student Winston (Lincoln Lambert), who is 13, enrolls at school and the two of them engage in competition for the upcoming science fair award and scholarship. Erwin and Winston end up together as science partners in their quest to win the competition by utilizing pheromones to impact popularity in their "Friendship Formula."

The ensemble cast in Popular Theory is funny and acidic and gives us the exact chemical reaction that one would hope for. The developing friendship and competitive nature of Erwin and Winston is believable and endearing. I really enjoyed the comedic timing of Cheryl Hines in her supporting role as Aunt Tammy. Also, I have to mention the hysterical drama offered by high school test subjects Casey (Kat Conner Sterling) and Alan (Varak Baronian) as they experience the reactions to their popularity quotient during the social experiment. Great performances by many other high school student cast members really make this movie combust. Popular Theory is directed by Ali Scher, who is also a co-writer with Joe Swanson. I really enjoyed the relationships and the dialogue they created. The movie has a fun soundtrack from music supervisor Ben Sokoler and music editor Jason Soudah which adds to the cause and effect of this film.

This film's message is that false friends can't replace true friends and, as in science, "particles have no meaning as isolated entities, but are better understood through their interconnections." You don't need to be popular at school or in life to thrive or be liked by everybody, but people do need somebody to connect with. Erwin and Winston don't win the science fair, but they do discover the real friendship formula.

I give Popular Theory 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 to 18, plus adults. This movie released in theaters February 9, 2024 so go learn why popularity isn't all that matters.

By Selene W., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 16

Popular Theory is an adorable film that showcases true friendship. The camera work, charming script, clever cinematography and great actors make this film a delightful experience.

The story begins by introducing Erwin (Sophia Reid-Gantzert), a 12-year-old genius who's in 11th grade. She meets Winston (Lincoln Lambert), another 12 year-old-genius who's initially her biggest competition. But, they agree to be colleagues and work on an experiment for the school science fair. They face many obstacles but discover what friendship truly means.

I really love this film. So many aspects make it unique and really stand out. I love the camera movement; from scene to scene the film is packed with clever transitions that are so appealing to the eye. Cinematographer Damian Horan knew what he was doing - the colors are especially interesting. Erwin is constantly surrounded by the color blue; while Winston is represented by the color orange. When the two first meet the juxtaposition of the colors stands out, as their friendship grows they both start wearing each other's colors. The color palette is not only aesthetically pleasing, but is also very symbolic and adds to the storytelling. I've seen similar applications like in the film 500 Days Of Summer, but I love the way Damian Horan shot this film, almost making the colors a standalone character. The art direction by Gavin Mosier and set design decoration by Mily Moreno is genius; kudos to the entire art department. Sophia Reid-Gantzert as Erwin and Lincoln Lambert as Winston make the cutest duo. They're such great actors individually, but also they work so well together. One of my favorite characters is Cheryl Hines as Aunt Tammy; she's a hairdresser and utilizes her craft as an art form. I also like how every character serves a different purpose in the film. I love the storyline; not only is it adorable but this film offers a great representation of what kids go through in high school and I think people can relate to many aspects of this film.

This film deals with many different themes like bullying, friendship, doing what is best for others, and other themes. The film's message is that popularity isn't everything and anyone can find true friendship.

I give Popular Theory 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 to 18, plus adults. Popular Theory is available now in theaters.

By Zo� C, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15

see youth comments
Popular Theory follows Erwin, a 12-year old genius, far smarter than any of her high school classmates. But Erwin's genius has come at a price: isolation. She doesn't have any friends and even her sister thinks she's a social leper. Determined to win the State Science Fair, she teams up with classmate Winston, a fellow outcast and chemistry guru, to create a popularity chemical which they add into sticks of chewing gum.
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