Theater Camp

Posted on July 13, 2023 at 5:53 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language, suggestive material, and /drug references
Profanity: Some strong anguage
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 14, 2023

Copyright Searchlight 2023
“Theater Camp” is a true labor of love from people who are former theater kids. They love the children who somehow know from birth that they were born to be performers, and seem to bypass the world of Raffi, JoJo, pop, and rock but know all of the songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Stephen Sondheim by the time when they’re still collecting from the tooth fairy.

Molly Gordon (“Broken Hearts Gallery”), Ben Platt (“Dear Evan Hanson” and “Pitch Perfect”), Noah Galvin (“The Real O’Neals”) and Nick Lieberman clearly know and love the world of theater kids, so the humor is pointed but affectionate. The passion for performance in both the kids and the adults who teach them is sometimes over the top, but the film is clear that it is these special people who can “turn cardboard into gold.” And at the heart of the film is what someone says near the end: theater camp is a place for people who are not accepted anyplace else.

The camp is called AdirondACTS and it is owned by Joan Rubinsky (Amy Sederis) and managed by Rita Cohen (Caroline Aaron of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”). They are good at scrambling to get enough campers and enough money to keep it going (“I know he’s awful and tone deaf but his father is rich”) until Joan has a seizure at a grade school production of “Bye Bye Birdie” (one of the film’s weakest ideas). She is in a coma and so her son Troy (Jimmy Tatro) has to take over. He as very much not a theater kid and he is not a business guy, either. The snooty rich kid camp sees this as an opportunity, and their representative (Patti Harrison) makes an offer to take it over.

The camp teachers include alumnae Amos (Tony winner Platt) and Rebecca-Diane (Gordon), whose ultra-close friendship is getting claustrophobic. Each year, they create an original musical for the campers to put on, and this year it will be “Joan, Still,” a tribute to the camp founder. There are also other productions, including a junior version of “The Crucible.” And there is an exhausted tech (a terrific Noah Galvin) and a teacher assigned to cover everything from masks to stage combat even though she has no idea about any of it and lied on her resume (a game Ayo Edebiri).

The film gently points at the pretensions and dysfunctions in the world of theater kids and adults, but it reminds us that they really do turn cardboard into gold throughout, especially with a final musical number that is at the same time rousing, hilarious, and heartwarming.

Parents should know that this movie has some strong language, a drug reference involving children, and some mild sexual references.

Family discussion: Why did Amos call himself a performer working full-time as a teacher? Why didn’t Rebecca-Diane tell him what she was doing? What is the best part of being in a show?

If you like this, try: “Camp,” “Magic Camp,” and “Waiting for Guffman”

Related Tags:


Comedy movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Musical

The Little Mermaid

Posted on May 23, 2023 at 2:38 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Scary monster, characters in peril, tense situations
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: May 26, 2023
Copyright Disney 2023

Disney’s live-action remake of the classic animated film that was a turning point marking the revitalization of Disney’s legendary animation division invites us to once again, be part of the world of mermaid Ariel (pop duet singer Halle Bailey) and Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King). As in the original film, the couple at the center are both a bit bland, and therefore perhaps the better question is whether we want to be part of the world of sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) and Ariel’s sidekicks, Scuttle (Awkwafina), Flounder (Jacob Trembley), and Sebastian (Daveed Diggs), the classic songs with some additions from “Hamilton’s” Lin-Manuel Miranda, and the visuals from cinematographer Dion Beebe, working with his “Chicago” collaborator, director Rob Marshall. The easy answer to that question is yes.

Again, it is a romanticized, happily-ever-after version of the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, the one so central to the Danish identity that it inspired the iconic statue in Copenhagen. In both of the Disney versions, Ariel is a rebellious teenager, the daughter of King Triton (Javier Bardem), who tells her than humans are evil and orders her to stay under water.

Eric, the adopted son of the widowed queen (a wonderfully regal Noma Dumezweni) is also ordered to stay away from the “other” world. Even before they meet, we see that he and Ariel have an adventurous spirit and core values of optimism, inclusion, and progressive views about the need to adapt to change in common.

Eric is my favorite Disney prince because, especially in the animated version, he is a little more off-beat than the usual stalwart, swashbuckling heroes. In his first scene, at sea, he shows us that he is not a snob and that he not only brings his dog on board, he risks his life to run through fire to save him. And then Ariel, who has been watching, saves both dog and prince from drowning. After a glimpse at the rescue, Ariel and Eric long to be together again, and that is when Ariel makes her fateful bargain with the sea witch.

Parts of this movie are truly enchanting, especially the underwater scenes. The opening moments on Prince Eric’s ship are thrillingly filmed and the “Under the Sea” number is a glorious Busby Berkeley underwater fantasia. A new number for Awkwafina from Lin-Manuel Miranda is a total banger. Some of the gentle updates to give Ariel more agency and the cast more diverse work well, and Colleen Atwood’s costumes are gorgeous. Other parts do not work as well. The ending is clumsy and drags on too long. The movie would be better with a 15 or 20 minutes shorter run time. But its best moments make us want to be part of Ariel’s world.

Parents should know that this film has some peril and scary moments including a fire on a sinking ship and a monstrous character.

Family discussion: Why do the Queen and King Triton fear going outside of their own communities? What will Eric and Ariel find? Which song is your favorite?

If you like this, try: the animated version, and the music of Chloe x Halle (note: some has mature language)

Related Tags:


Based on a book Date movie Fantasy movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Musical Remake Romance Talking animals

Magic Mike’s Last Dance

Posted on February 10, 2023 at 10:03 am

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sexual material and language
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 10, 2023
Date Released to DVD: April 24, 2023

Copyright 2023 Warner Brothers
Like the first “Magic Mike” movie, inspired by star Channing Tatum’s experiences as a male stripper (his term), this third in the trilogy begins with his character in financial straits. Mike’s dream in the original was to have a furniture store. With the help of his fellow stripper friends, he achieved that dream. But, we’re told by a narrator who will not be identified until later, the pandemic and economic setbacks have forced him to close down and he is working as a catering bartender. The narrator also provides some history and science about the importance of dance.

But after that, it’s basically a “Step Up”-style fairy tale (the ones after Tatum’s break-through in the grittier, more grounded original). That is probably a more appropriate response to the pandemic and the economic setbacks. None of it makes any sense, but there’s a 15-minute dance number at the end, and guys with their shirts off making a lot of ladies very happy, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

At a fancy fund-raiser, a guest recognizes Mike. “Weren’t you a cop?” she asks, and they both smile remembering that ten years before, he danced at her bachelorette party. She mentions his entertaining “silly dance” to the gala’s host, the about-to-be-divorced and fabulously wealthy Maxandra Medoza (Salma Hayek Pinault), who asks him to stay after the party and give her a dance. “Why are you moving my flowers?” she asks as he moves things around and tests the furniture for its capacity to support what he has in mind. He tests her as well; this movie is very clear about consent, about how important it is and also how erotic.

That “unexpected magical moment” inspires her to bring him to London, where she cancels the successful but old-fashioned play in her theater and tells Mike he is now choreographer of a new strip show. As befits a Cinderella story where she plays both fairy godmother and romantic interest, there is a makeover moment at Liberty of London, arriving in a pumpkin coach, I mean a Rolls. Thankfully, when she brings him to meet her friends, there is no silliness about his not knowing which fork to use or recognize their cultural references. This is not that kind of fairy tale. This is about a realizing a bigger dream than he ever dared to imagine. And that’s a pretty magical moment to enjoy.

Fans of the previous films will enjoy Mike’s Zoom call with some of most beloved characters and a throwback to Mike’s signature song, “Pony.” But you do not need any familiarity with the story to, like the female characters in the film, just sit back and enjoy the show.

Parents should know that this movie is about male strippers and there is a lot of suggestive dancing and some strong language, sexual references and non-explicit situations.

Family discussion: Why was having someone believe in him so important to Mike? What decision would you have made if you were Max?

If you like this, try: the other “Magic Mike” movies and “Mrs. Henderson Presents,” with Dame Judi Dench, based on the true story of a nude show in London.

Related Tags:


DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Musical Romance Series/Sequel

Seriously Red

Posted on February 9, 2023 at 5:10 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sexual content, nudity and some language
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Scenes of surgery
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie

Copyright 2023 Dollhouse Pictures
“Seriously Red” was written by Krew Boylan to take the greatest possible advantage of the talents of its star…Krew Boylan, with an assist from the infinite talents of the iconic superstar Krew Boylan cosplays as throughout the film: Dolly Parton. Dolly famously said, as quoted in the film, “Find out who you are and be that on purpose.” In “Seriously Red,” Boylan takes a while to follow that advice, as the first part is about becoming a better Dolly and it is only near the end that she begins to think about what it means to be a better Red. Significantly, “Red” like her curly hair, is her character’s nickname, but as Dolly, she hides it under a big, pouffy blonde wig.

Red’s job is valuing houses for sale and we can see in the first scene that she is sympathetic to the homeowner and also that she can’t wait to get to what she really loves, dressing as Dolly for an office party. The only other person in costume, though, is the Elvis impersonator hired to emcee the event (Rose Byrne, a close friend of Boylan’s and a co-producer on the film). Red braves it out and clearly enjoys the reaction from the crowd. But the next day, it turns out that her ebullience went too far. She is fired for inappropriate behavior, including grabbing the crotches of some of the attendees.

And so, she begins to explore the possibility of making a living as a full-time Dolly Parton impersonator. Channeling Dolly gives her courage and soon she is a success, especially when she teams up with a man so deeply into his Kenny Rogers impersonation that he will not give out his real name. He is Kenny offstage as well as on (Daniel Webber). He is drawn to Dolly; all he sees is Dolly, not Red. And that is fine with Red…for a while.

Boylan has the creamy skin and bright blue eyes to shine in the Dolly moments. The musical numbers, presented with sweetness and sincerity, are a lot of fun. The real life scenes are not as lively or effectively staged, including a detour to get breast augmentation surgery and encounters with Red’s disapproving mother, old friend who is growing impatient, and the people she deals with as she becomes more successful. Bobby Cannavale (also a co-producer) is so good as an impresario of impersonators (and former Neil Diamond performer) we wish we could see more of him, and learn more about the cosplayers on stage and in the audience. Like Red herself, the movie is more confident and appealing when it’s all dressed up in spangles and a high blonde wig. Dolly knows that it’s what is inside that counts. Boylen has not yet learned that lesson.

Parents should know that his film has nudity and sexual references and situations, cosmetic surgery, and strong language.

Family discussion: If you were going to be a celebrity impersonator, who would you be? Why was it hard for Red to be happy being herself?

If you like this, try: “Dumpling” and “Outrageous” and Dolly Parton films like “Steel Magnolias” and “9 to 5”

Related Tags:


Drama Movies -- format Musical

13 the Musical

Posted on August 12, 2022 at 12:01 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some thematic elements and rude humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 12, 2022

Copyright 2022 Netflix
There’s lyric in a song in the lively and tuneful “13 the Musical” that the main character and his mother sing together that pretty much sums up the most stressful parts of life. And there’s nothing more stressful in life than middle school. The mother and son sing ruefully, “It would be funny if it didn’t suck.”

Evan Goldman (a terrific Eli Golden) is studying for his upcoming bar mitzvah, or, as he says, “the Super Bowl of Judaism.” Like many b’nai mitzvot, he is more focused on the party than the significance of being called to read from the Torah and being recognized as an adult. He believes the party will establish his status, either cool or not.

Evan’s parents have just split up, and he and his mother (Debra Messing) are leaving New York to move in with his grandmother (Rhea Perlman) in a very small town in Indiana. There is no synagogue; his New York rabbi (a warm, wise, and witty Josh Peck) will fly in to conduct the service in a church. Evan faces all the pressure of starting a new school in 8th grade multiplied by the pressure of figuring out who the cool kids are and how to make sure they come to his party. This leads him to make a lot of mistakes, hurting the feelings of the not-cool but loyal friends he abandons for the popular crowd, and then digging himself in deeper when he betrays the new friends, too.

In other words, it’s middle school. Actually, it’s middle school with terrific musical numbers. The 2012 Broadway show was entirely performed by kids, even the musicians. Ariana Grande was in the cast. This version smooths out some of the storyline, making it more family-friendly and a bit sweeter. Messing and Perlman are welcome additions, but the focus is still very much on the 8th graders and their efforts to begin to navigate relationships, friend and romantic. Given the heightened emotion of that age, this film is reassuringly low stakes. A couple wants to have a first kiss. A jealous third party wants to make sure it does not happen. Evan is in the middle because either way he will not be able to have the party he wants. Kids make some poor choices but they learn to do better, starting with an apology.

A lot of the film is the energetic, witty musical numbers from writer/composer Jason Robert Brown (“The Last Five Years”), energetically choreographed by Jamal Sims. Every one of the young performers is a triple threat, acting, singing, and dancing, with songs set at cheerleader practice and on the football field bleachers. The storyline lightly but sincerely and authentically addresses the real issues of adolescence but it is seeing real-life kids singing and dancing with such jubilant energy and showing the skill and hard work they have devoted to the performance that are the greatest reassurance that adolescence can be survived and triumphed over.

Parents should know that this movie includes a painful divorce and parent-child estrangement and discussion of kissing.

Family discussion: How does Evan help his friends solve their problems? Why was it hard for Brett to tell Lucy he did not like the way she was treating him? Why did Archie go along with Evan’s plan?

If you like this, try: “Hey, Hey, It’s Esther Blueburger,” “You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah,” and “Better Nate Than Ever”

Related Tags:


Family Issues movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Musical Stories about Teens VOD and Streaming
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2023, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik