Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
CBGB Movie Poster Image
Weak drama but great rock-'n'-roll (plus sex and drugs).
  • R
  • 2013
  • 101 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages
The movie has a vague, semi-buried message about helping people, even if one doesn't have great means. But mostly this is a story about being in the right place at the right time.
Positive Role Models & Representations
The main character is a shambling mess, bad with money, careless, and sometimes rude. But he has a certain appeal due to his cool, casual attitude, and he tends to try to help people, even if he wants to appear that he's not doing so.

Some Hell's Angels beat up some debt collectors in one scene. A band crashes a big truck on the freeway. There's a fight in a convenience store with stabbing and blood (one band member is sent to the hospital). The lead singer of the Dead Boys pretends to choke himself with the microphone cord (and seems to be actually doing it). A dead body shows up in front of the door to the club. The music sometimes has violent themes. Finally, in a prologue, a baby escapes from its crib and runs out the front door and into the woods; the sequence can be harrowing for parents, but the baby comes out fine.

One female breast is shown, and a few male butts. Minor characters are shown making out and participating in oral sex in the club's bathroom. These scenes are shown very quickly in fast-motion montages. A musician makes a reference to masturbating.
Language is strong, but without much variety. It includes multiple uses of "f--k," "s--t," "motherf--ker," "p---y," "c--k," and "ass."
The main character likes to drink Fresca and references it at least twice.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
The movie takes place at a nightclub/bar, and the liquor flows freely throughout. Characters also smoke cigarettes throughout. One supporting character is shown to be a junkie, though he's never seen taking drugs. (He just appears sleepy and confused.) Minor characters are shown snorting cocaine. The main character swigs from a bottle of vodka, and then pours it in the gas tank of his truck.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that CBGB tells the gritty story of the famous nightclub in New York City, which was the launching point of many great bands. The club setting includes fighting, stabbing, and some blood, and a dead body. There's strong language throughout including "f--k," "s--t," "c--k," and "p---y." There's some brief nudity (one female breast and a few male butts), plus brief images of oral sex, and some innuendo. Characters smoke cigarettes and drink throughout the movie, and there are brief images of characters snorting cocaine. One character is said to be a junkie, though he's never shown taking drugs. The music of Talking Heads, Television, Blondie, the Ramones, the Dead Boys, etc. may be ancient history to today's teens, but those with a curiosity about music history may find this interesting.

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What's the story?

In 1973, a washed up businessman named Hilly Kristal (Alan Rickman), who has filed for bankruptcy twice, decides to open a new club. Named CBGB, for "Country, Bluegrass, Blues," he hopes to bring that music to the Bowery. Instead, his club begins to draw a new kind of music -- raw, subversive, fast, loud, and "punk." Before long, bands like Television, Talking Heads, Blondie, and the Ramones draw big crowds, and against his cynical nature, Hilly turns to his estranged daughter, Lisa (Ashley Greene) for help. When record labels swoop in, he decides to become a band manager and starts with the Dead Boys, led by the outrageous Stiv Bators (Justin Bartha) and Cheetah Chrome (Rupert Grint). But more trouble is on the horizon.

Is it any good?

By no stretch of the imagination is CBGB a well-made movie. It falls prey to the moldiest aspects of the biopic genre, such as the "miraculous, sudden realization that this thing is going to be big," which takes place in just about every scene. And while Alan Rickman's lead performance is amusing, not a single other character has enough screen time or development to become anyone interesting or relevant.
Director Randall Miller tries to present the movie with an outrageous, or at least silly, quality, employing things like comic book frames and embellishments (like Iggy Pop jumping on stage) to liven up the story. The famous bands are sometimes portrayed by recognizable stars (Malin Akerman as Debbie Harry, Joel David Moore as Joey Ramone, Justin Bartha and Rupert Grint as the Dead Boys, etc.), but they lip-sync the real music. And since the lightweight plot and great music make this less annoying than Rock of Ages, fans of the era may find something to enjoy.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the history of rock 'n' roll music. Do these bands still sound relevant today? Is their music still edgy, or has it become mainstream?
  • Does the music seem violent or dangerous? How can music influence behavior? Are certain types of music associated with dangerous behavior?
  • How much does the smoking and drinking impact the story? Does it seem realistic or is the behavior romanticized?
  • Despite all his bad qualities, Hilly helps a lot of people and makes a lot of people happy. Do you like him? Is he a good role model?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love music

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