MPAA Rating: PG-13

Entertainment: +2 1/2

Content: -2

In a remote part of Tennessee, the town hermit has died, and Dr. Jerry Lovell (Liam Neeson) is called to determine the cause of death. Searching her mountain cabin, he discovers Nell (Jodie Foster), a disturbed girl who has no connection to the outside world. Her intense fear of people and strange language prevent Jerry from communicating with her. He goes to a psychiatric hospital and tells Dr. Paula Olsen (Natasha Richardson) about the case. While Jerry's concern for Nell is rooted in his belief that she is a person, Paula's intrigue is purely scientific. Her supervisor demands Paula bring in the "wild child" for testing. Outraged, Jerry gets a court injunction to allow Nell to stay in her home. Thus, the battle begins. Is Nell the victim of abuse and mental retardation, or is she simply misunderstood and capable of caring for herself? Jerry and Paula have three months to observe Nell and present their hypotheses to the court. Jerry slowly builds trust with Nell by learning her language and helping her overcome her fear of the outside world. But time is running out when the press discovers Nell and Paula's supervisor fights the court for possession. Foster will probably receive an Academy Award nomination. Still, NELL drags toward the end and fails to wrap up some elements of the story.

Nell has a nightly practice of swimming in the nude, the film's main objectionable element. While the several scenes with female breast nudity are not sexual, their frequency gets rather old. Portraying Nell's innocence could have been done some other way. One disturbing scene occurs when Jerry and Paula take Nell to town for the first time. Some teenage boys taunt Nell to take off her clothes, which she does rather easily, revealing her breasts. Nell's fear of the outside world stems from the fact that her mother was raped, and Nell was the product of that rape and reason for her mother's hermit lifestyle. The film explores a subtle tension between Jerry wanting to become a hermit after the recent failure of his marriage and Nell's need to integrate into the outside world. The film's most endearing quality is Jerry's compassion for Nell. Their friendship is more about celebrating life itself than worrying about the quality of life and material possessions. Too bad that gratuitous nudity and many obscenities and profanities muddy the script.

Preview Reviewer: Krista Kay Bontrager
20th Century Fox, 10201 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035

The following categories contain objective listings of film content which contribute to the subjective numeric Content ratings posted to the left and on the Home page.

Crude Language: Few (4) times - Mild

Obscene Language: Several (9) times (f-word 1, s-word 8)

Profanity: Several (6) times - Regular 4 (J, C); Exclamatory 2

Violence: Once - Moderate (girl cuts mouth on glass)

Sex: None

Nudity: Several times (full breast nudity, silhouetted female nudity, girl swims in nude; near nudity woman swimming in underwear

Sexual Dialogue/Gesture: Several times (crude references to sex and female breasts; boys taunt Nell to take off her clothes)

Drugs: None

Other: Bible portrayed positively

Running Time:
Intended Audience: Adults

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