A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although this indie comedy about the soul transplant business is imaginative, it probably won't have much appeal for kids or young teens. It's grown-up material, and the humor comes from taking our culture's incessant soul-searching and self-involvement to a new level of absurdity. Expect some swearing (mostly mild, though there's one "what the f--k?") and smoking. There are also two scenes with brief female nudity (models in a drawing class and a poster designed to elicit a humorous response).
What's the story?
Actor Paul Giamatti (Paul Giamatti) is suffering greatly as he rehearses for a Chekhov play -- he can't separate himself from the unhappy character he's playing. So when he reads a magazine article about the innovative process of safe "soul removal and storage," he's intrigued. Friendly Dr. Flintstein (David Strathairn) and his beaming assistant (Lauren Ambrose) facilitate the transplant with ease. Paul is initially elated and relieved -- but it isn't long before he realizes that both his acting and his marriage to Claire (Emily Watson) are less than stellar without an intact soul. Unfortunately, his soul is no longer in Flintstein's vault: It's been stolen by a Russian black marketeer. Soon, hapless Russian "soul mule" (Dina Korzun) becomes Paul's ally in the quest for his soul's return.
Is it any good?
The clever script and smooth direction by first-time writer/director Sophie Barthes keep this surreal comedy grounded in reality. So do the terrific performances, especially by Giamatti in a role that feels like it was tailor-made for his Everyman look and quirky personality. There's not a moment of tongue-in-cheek behavior or campy, "knowing" dialogue.
It's a stretch to imagine that souls can be removed, transplanted, or stored -- and an even bigger stretch to make the premise funny and last for nearly two hours. Barthes is mostly successful. She spends just enough time with the newly soulless Giamatti -- and then with Giamatti owning the interim soul of someone even more depressed than he was -- to keep the film from exhausting the narrative possibilities. The rest of the movie is spent in a farcical adventure in St. Petersburg, Russia, during which Giamatti learns a lesson that the audience knew from the beginning.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what it means to "suspend your disbelief." How do the filmmakers make the idea of transplanting souls seem not only possible but ordinary? Did having Paul Giamatti go by his real name make it more believable?
What is the movie saying about "technology for technology's sake"? Can you think of any real-life technologies that seem as far-fetched as the soul-transplant business?
Why is the visual of a soul as a chickpea or garbanzo bean funny? Since the "soul" is usually considered to have enormous importance, do you think the fact that it was so tiny underlined the movie's ironic tone?
- In theaters: August 7, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: March 2, 2010
- Cast: Dina Korzun, Emily Watson, Paul Giamatti
- Director: Sophie Barthes
- Studio: Samuel Goldwyn Company
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: nudity and brief strong language
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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