A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The most surprising people harbor prejudices. Everyone can learn to be open-minded. You can live as an adult without following a conventional path. A mother rethinks her theology to be okay with her son's gayness. "Your children have their own path and you can't direct it."
Positive Role Models
A religious mom rejects her son's sexual orientation as an abomination and realizes that her response is prejudiced, so she educates herself and becomes a proud parent active in the gay community.
Sex, Romance & Nudity
Although no sex is shown, gay sexual images are frankly depicted in background shots of magazine and DVD covers. From far, male genitalia are shown, including erect penises. Blowjobs are mentioned, and pictures, from afar, show an erect penis in the hand of another man. Condoms and lubrication are discussed. Patrons of the store describe a "Vaseline alley" located behind the store where gays met to have sex. Pictures show shirtless men with bulging muscles and bulges in pants.
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"S--t," "c--k rings," "rod," "penetration," "d--ks," "t-ts," "bang," "ass," "anal lube," "bitch," "well-hung," "rimming," "blowjobs," and "suck."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults smoke cigarettes.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Circus of Books, a frank 2020 documentary, traces the 30-year life of a hardcore gay pornographic book store and movie distributorship run by an unlikely duo. The owners are a middle-class Jewish couple raising three children, none of whom had a clue what their parents did for a living. The daughter, Rachel Mason, directs the film, which also investigates the irony in her older brother's coming out as a gay man, a development the dad supports but which forced the more religious mom to question her inability to accept. How she ultimately came to embrace her son and help other parents do the same is the touching secondary story of this uplifting if somewhat graphic and sexually-candid movie. Expect to see walls covered with magazines and DVD covers depicting erect penises and male couples looking aroused. Language includes "s--t," "c--k rings," "rod," "penetration," "d--ks," "t-ts," "bang," "ass," "anal lube," "bitch," "well-hung," "rimming," "blowjob," and "suck." To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Overall the film is a moving documentary, a historical tidbit about a no-longer viable business. But that story isn't half as interesting as the family drama of tolerance, and a quick re-edit would fix that problem. While the oddity of a seemingly conventional couple running an unconventional business is interesting, on its own that story offers only minimal emotional impact.
Even when Karen's failure to accept her gay son is finally addressed, Circus of Books leaves us to view her as a villain for far too long, giving no early hint of her eventual extraordinary quest to find a way to erase her prejudices. Karen Mason, the religious Jew who couldn't accept her gay son because her religion dictated that gayness was an abomination, becomes a leader in PFLAG, Parents and Friend of Lesbians and Gays. Had we been offered a hint of that at the beginning of the film, the story of the store would have been imbued with nuance and emotion otherwise absent.
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