Many thanks to Paul Kilduff of the Berkeley Monthly for a terrific interview. (But for the record, my talk at the World Bank was about international corporate governance. That was a joke.)
Here are a couple of excerpts:
PK: What about Hotel for Dogs? You gave that a lukewarm review, but it sounds outstanding.
NM: Lukewarm? It was better than I thought. This is the problem with Hotel for Dogs. The kids in the movie really get away with a lot and the movie seems to think it’s charming and even heroic that they lie and they cheat and they steal. In the very beginning of the movie, they are perpetuating a scam where they take stuff to a pawn shop that is not the real stuff, and get money for it. Because it’s to buy dog food, this is supposed to be all right. But that’s really not good and so I’m a little hesitant. The dogs are adorable. The kids are adorable. But there is never any reckoning. And I’ll tell you, that in a movie–and this goes for Shopaholics, too–we do insist in our hearts, in the lizard brain, we really have this commitment to some kind of justice in a movie. And when somebody just continues to be enabled through the movie and doesn’t have any kind of recognition of the damage that they inflict, then I think that leaves the audience unsatisfied as a matter of narrative. It leaves me unsatisfied as the Movie Mom because I don’t really like saying that to kids, that there are no consequences for bad behavior.
PK: So you do want some sort of morality message in films then?
NM: Yeah, I do. I think it makes it a better story for one thing. For example there was a movie “Catch That Kid” about a child bank robber. And I was just horrified by the whole thing. I don’t care that it was nice that she was trying to help out the family when her father got sick, but she was robbing a bank and bringing her brother along. And I’m as big a fan of heist movies as anyone, but they are careful to instill some sort of sense of justice. If you watch heist movies, you’ll find that at the end of all of them one of three things happens. Either they’re unsuccessful, in which case you have all the fun of the heist but you don’t have to feel bad about the outcome. Or they somehow are stealing from someone who’s even worse than they are, like in The Sting. Or they’re stealing for a really good cause and no one’s going to get hurt. To make the story work you have to have some sense of justice. A movie that I really came down hard on was called Sleepover in which the girl lied, cheated, stole, drove a car (even though she’s underage), made a date with a stranger on the Internet and met him in a bar, and isn’t it funny that it turned out to be their principal? And then worst of all, and this was really appalling to me, at the end of this sleepover/scavenger hunt when they, of course, won, their prize, they got to sit at the cool table in high school. And so in the last scene, they’re sitting at the cool table and you’re expecting the payoff, which is that they’re going to be all inclusionary and open it up to everybody, and they turn out to be mean girls really. And this is supposed to be happy news? I don’t think that’s a good thing for kids.
PK: What about the ratings system for movies?
NM: It’s wack. It’s just awful. And this is my problem with the PGs right now. For example, you can use the F-word once in a PG-13 as long as it doesn’t refer to sex.
PK: Is that chiseled in stone?
NM: They don’t have it written, but that is the rule and they’ve been on record as saying that’s the rule. But think about it–you would need a Ph.D. in symbiotics to parse that rule. So, it’s okay to use that word in a violent way, in an angry way, in an insulting way, but not in a sexual way? If the word is that bad, why is it okay to have it there once? And so every PG-13 has got that word in once now. It’s just completely gratuitous. That shows you how idiotic the ratings system is and has been documented many times, is a lot fussier about sex than it is about violence, which is an issue for me.
PK: But ain’t that America?
NM: That is America, because I wrote this review of Coraline and I mentioned that there is a very heavyset woman wearing pasties and it’s a little over the top for a PG movie and the child is in peril throughout the movie. There’s a scary monster and there are children whose eyes have been taken away from them. And yet overwhelmingly, the emails that I got were about the two seconds of the almost naked breasts.
PK: We prefer violence over sex.
NM: But on the other hand, I talk to parents’ groups sometimes and it’s about even between the parents who come to me and say, “I don’t care about sex, I only care about violence,” and “I don’t care about violence, I only care about sex.”
PK: But, it does seem irresponsible to me to take kids to violent movies. What’s up with adults who do that?
NM: It drives me crazy. To me it’s child abuse. I never go to an R-rated movie without some children in the audience and I’m talking about vampire movies, tremendously scary movies. I was at one very, very violent movie once and there was an 8-year-old sitting next to me and I finally said to her mother, I just couldn’t stand it anymore, and I said, “You understand that this movie that’s starting in 10 minutes is one of the most violent movies ever made?” And the mother said, “Oh, she’s not going to like that.”
PK: Well, babysitters are expensive.
NM: You know what else is expensive? Therapy.