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Down to You

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Teenagers, especially teenage girls, may want to see this movie, a romantic comedy staring teen dreams Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Julia Styles. Parents need to know that it contains material that they may consider inappropriate, including several explicit sexual references that are well into R territory, despite the film’s P-13 rating.

For example, the movie opens with one character bragging about his success as a porno star and then making a bet with another character about whether he can find a girl who will have sex with him that night. He does, and then freaks out because she does something in bed that he has not previously done, as he explains, in tears, to the leading man. All of this occurs in the first ten minutes. The main couple’s less than completely successful first sexual encounter is shown. A character attempts suicide over a broken heart, a serious issue poorly handled. Furthermore, the characters, college students for most of the story, drink and smoke constantly and use drugs. A character drives while drunk and crashes the car.

Somewhere in all of that, there is a sweet story about two college kids who fall in love and find more than they are able to handle. The movie shows us that they get into trouble for trying to take on an adult relationship without the emotional maturity it requires. They break up because they are not capable of talking to each other honestly about their fears. When they have a pregnancy scare, they realize that they are not prepared for the consequences of their actions. Desperate for a separation to give her space to grow up, the girl breaks up with the boy the only way she can think of — by having sex with someone else.

Parents of kids who see this movie should use it as an opportunity to talk about the choices that are available to kids when they leave home to go to college, including the choice of friends, romantic partners, alcohol and drug use, the decision to have sex, decisions about classes and careers, and how they make those choices.

Never Been Kissed

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Drew Barrymore is completely adorable in this completely adorable story about Josie, a former high school ugly duckling, now a copy editor for the Chicago Sun Times. She wants to prove herself as a reporter and her first assignment is to go undercover as a high school student to report on what is going on in the lives of teenagers.

She finds that more than proving herself as a reporter, she wants to use her adult competence to triumph over her hideously humiliating memories of being unpopular (her nickname was “Josie Grossie”) and find a way to fit in. But it turns out that the skills it takes to succeed as an adult have nothing to do with the skills it takes to succeed in high school. When she does find a place with “The Denominators,” the school’s brainy (nerdy) crowd, she is happy. But pressed by her editor to fit in with the cool kids, she relives her old experience of frustration and embarassment.

Meanwhile, her brother Rob (David Arquette in his most appealing performance), has found that the skills that made him very successful in high school have been of no use since. Wanting to help Josie — and to return to the place where he was happiest — he, too enrolls in the high school, and is not only immediately dubbed “cool” by the entire student body, he is able to make Josie cool, too.

Josie is at last noticed by the most popular boy in school, and is thrilled when he invites her to the prom. And she begins to fall in love with her handsome English teacher. Her entire office is mesmerized by her daily adventures, which they watch through a hidden camera.

All of the predictable complications ensue, and all are resolved in a finale that is more romantic than persuasive, but fun.

This is the best of the recent spate of teen-centered comedies, with a genuinely sweet and romantic story and some perceptive comments about life in high school. It also has a heroine who believes in waiting for the right person to kiss, even if that wait takes quite a while.

Parents should know that there are some sexual references (Josie’s friend at the office brags about her sex life, but envies Josie’s views on love) and that in one scene Josie unknowingly eats some hash brownies and as a result behaves very foolishly. A “sex talk” is played for humor, and involved putting condoms on bananas. A young girl offers to have sex with Rob. He is clearly tempted, but knows that it would be wrong, and he turns her down. In general, however, this movie’s values are of self-respect and of making decisions about sexual involvement based on love and maturity.

Families who see this movie should talk about why high school is such a clique-ish stage of life, and what kids think will be different in college and afterward. Why did Josie want so badly to meet the limited standards of high school popularity? Why did her friends at work envy her? Why didn’t she tell the truth earlier?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Barrymore’s “Ever After.”

Next Friday

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

On the one hand, this movie is a lazy, dumb, and misogynistic and it promotes pot smoking, unemployment, and burglary. On the other hand, it is genial and unpretentious. If it does not take drug use, crime, racism, and sexism too seriously, it does not take itself too seriously either. Almost every joke in the movie is taken from another movie, but the cast enjoys them so much that they occasionally make it work.

This is the sequel to “Friday,” a movie that performed modestly in theaters but became a hit on video. In the original, Craig (played by rap star Ice Cube, who co-wrote the screenplay) spent the day smoking pot and beat up the neighborhood bully. The sequel, again written by and starring Ice Cube, has the bully breaking out of prison and looking for revenge. Craig goes off to the suburbs to stay with his uncle, who bought a house with money he won in a lottery.

Craig again spends the day smoking pot — with his Uncle Elroy and Elroy’s sexually rapacious girlfriend, and with Elroy’s son Day-Day and his friend from work (before they get fired). When they have to raise $3600 to pay off delinquent property taxes, it never occurs to them to earn it or to go to the bank to get a home equity loan. No, clearly the best choice is to steal it from some vicious Latino drug dealers across the street.

Parents should know that the movie is extremely raunchy and includes just about every kind of material except for graphic violence that parents try to keep away from kids. Parents whose kids do see this movie should at least try to talk with them about the portrayal of women (either sexual predators, compliant bimbos or terrifying harridans) and minorities and drugs as a way to bond and to escape worries.

October Sky

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This true story of a boy from a small town who dreams of becoming a rocket scientist is one of the best films ever made about the thrill and hard work of science and a great family movie.

In 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first man-made orbiting satellite. Thanks to Miss Riley (Laura Dern), a gifted teacher, Homer Hickam (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his high school friends peer up into the clear October sky over their tiny West Virginia coal mining town to see its tiny spark drift across the stars. Homer dreams of being a rocket scientist. His father, John (Chris Cooper), the mine supervisor, does not understand Homer’s longing for wider horizons. But others do. Miss Riley roots for “the unlucky ones.” Homer’s mother covers the kitchen wall with a mural of the seascape she longs to see. Homer’s friends are glad to be a part of something new and important, and the community is proud to have a hero.

We know from the beginning where this story is going, just as we know with “Rocky.” The triumph of the underdog is one of literature’s most enduring themes. As long as it is done well, audiences are happy to go along and it is never done better than it is here. The script, the production design, and the acting are all superb. Gyllenhaal’s expressive eyes show his longing for the stars a million light years away and for his father’s approval in his own home. Cooper makes a role that could have been a one-dimensional tyrant multi-layered and complex, even sympathetic. Plot twists that might seem heavy-handed or melodramatic work because we know they really happened, and because these characters make us believe. We care so deeply about them that when we see real home movie footage of the real-life Homer’s experiments over the closing credits we feel as though they are a part of our family.

Parents should use this movie to talk to kids about how Homer, not a great student and not especially strong in math, became so inspired by an idea that he begins to think in new ways. Using math and science to solve problems made it real to him, and the work involved was — like the eight- mile walk to his experimental launch site — unquestionably worth it. They should also talk about why it was hard for John to support Homer’s ambitions, why his mother saw it differently, whether Homer made the right choice in going to work in the mine — and in leaving it, how kids at school treat the “nerds” and why, how people are evaluated differently in school than they are once they get out, and how life in 1999 is different from the world of 1957.

Parents should know that a drunken stepfather beats up one of Homer’s friends in one scene (and is stopped by John) and that there are some very mild sexual references.

Kids who enjoy this movie might also enjoy “The Corn is Green,” another true story about a boy from the coal mines who is transformed by education. Two different versions are available, one with Katharine Hepburn and one with Bette Davis.

One True Thing

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Based on Anna Quindlen’s novel, this is the story of a young writer who learns the value of her mother when she goes to care for her during her treatment for cancer. Renee Zellweger plays Ellen Gulden, a New York Magazine writer who has always rejected her mother’s homey values to follow the career of her father, a distinguished literary critic, professor, and author. As Ellen cares for her mother, she finds that her father is less than she thought, and her mother is more. In understanding and accepting her parents as fully human, Ellen begins to be more fully human herself. She gains an appreciation for her mother’s strength. The community and domestic projects Ellen had seen as unimportant busywork she learns to see as an essential source of sustenance. Meryl Streep shines as Ellen’s mother Kate, not afraid to show us the irritating side of Kate’s sunny personality and the impatience she reveals as she acknowledges that she has to insist on her opportunity to talk about what is important to her before it is too late. William Hurt plays Ellen’s father George. He show us that his hypocricy comes from weakness, insecurity, and fear, in a way harder for Ellen to take than if it had been based only on selfishness.

Parental concerns include the brief profanity that earns this film an R rating as well as intense and disturbing scenes concerning Kate’s illness and the issue of euthanasia. The movie probably will not have much appeal for teens, who are seldom ready to consider their parents as fully human, but those who want to see it may come away with a better appreciation for the complexity of relationships and the diversity of accomplishments.