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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Colette is a biographical drama about French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley), who wrote mainstream erotica that turned Paris on its ear at the turn of the 20th century. As you might expect, there's lots of sex: marital, premarital, extramarital, opposite-sex, same-sex, and transgender. Most of it isn't gratuitous, but noises are heard, motions are seen, and there's partial nudity (bare breasts). There's also quite a bit of conversation about sex, but the words are so elegantly phrased that it doesn't seem quite as naughty as it must have been a century ago. Characters do curse, too, though, including "s--t" and "bitch." They also drink, yell at each other, and get into confrontations that sometimes turn physical. Colette is a free spirit who operates with integrity and without prejudice; she's portrayed as a strong, independent-thinking trailblazer who pushed the boundaries of women's sexual and professional roles in society, thanks in part to people who encouraged her to live authentically. It's historically fascinating, but the movie's mature themes and extramarital liaisons make it age-appropriate for older teens only.
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What's the story?
Living in turn-of-the-century Paris, COLETTE (Keira Knightley) writes a sensual novel based largely on her own experiences as a teen. The book, about a schoolgirl named Claudine, is published under the name of her husband, Willy (Dominic West) -- who has an established fan base. It sets the French literary world on fire, turning both of them into high-society superstars. To keep the creativity flowing, Willy encourages Colette to have more and varied sexual encounters. But the more she writes, the more success comes their way ... and the more independent she becomes, with accompanying frustration that she isn't receiving proper credit for her work. As she pursues her own authenticity, Colette becomes a prominent voice in challenging the gender norms of the day.
Is it any good?
This biopic offers a fascinating, revelatory look at how far women's rights and LGBTQ acceptance have come in a century. Colette deftly creates complex characters who are well-written, well-acted, and well-directed. The script is pure auditory luxury: witty, clever, divine. Even more remarkable is how the characters speak "dirty" and yet turn the phrases with such sophistication that they sound refined (examples: "toxic embrace" and "I'll be lying in bed thinking of the two of you in the fondest way possible"). Knightley is powerful as a country girl who marries into high-society circles and emerges as a woman who's extremely comfortable in her skin and yet lives uncomfortably ahead of her time. And West is captivating as Willy, Colette's husband, who's a charming, gregarious, larger-than-life personality. When he behaves inexcusably, it's consistent with his character, perhaps helping audiences understand why Colette stays with him for so long.
Every moment of Colette delivers the unexpected. That said, when the point is to show how the character is pushing the envelope, it would be helpful to get more nuance to the historical context. For example, Colette's male friend, Wague (Dickie Beau), is an effeminate performer who seems to be accepted by society. But her friend and eventual lover, Missy (Denise Gough), is a woman who identifies and dresses as a man and is seen as scandalous. It's left unclear where the line lay during the Belle Époque, which would have helped viewers fully understand Colette's efforts.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Colette depicts the gender roles of the late 1800s and early 1900s. How does Colette represent them? How does she defy them? How has the world changed since then? Can you think of any careers that still discourage women? What professions are less inclusive of men?
In what ways does Colette exhibit critical and independent thinking? Why is that essential to progress?
How does the movie depict sex? What does it mean to the characters? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
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