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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The movie goes to lengths to analyze the issue of bullying from many perspectives, including those of the victim, the instigator, and bystanders. Throughout the story, their feelings aren't always definitive, which reflects the reality of this complicated issue. Sometimes the bully feels guilty, and sometimes taking out his aggressions on others makes him feel empowered. Similarly, the victim struggles with his conflicting emotions as he develops a tentative relationship with his former adversary. All that is resolved by the story's end, though, and every character has learned compromise, trust, self-respect, and compassion.
Positive Role Models
This is a mixed bag. The evolution of Tommy and Matt's friendship is a great example of two people willing to see past their differences to establish a relationship, and a number of other supporting characters experience similar changes of heart. When it comes to the adults, though, the message is less clear. Tommy's grandmother is caring and a great listener, but she tends to oversimplify what is a serious issue to him. Matt's older brother leads him down the wrong path for very selfish reasons and never learns his lesson. As for school officials, their solution to the problem is to force together a bully and his victim with no guidance or supervision. It turns out OK in the end, but such a move could have dangerous repercussions in the real world.
Violence & Scariness
Incidents of bullying run the gamut; teens shove victims into walls, slap, punch, kick, and, in one case, toss a non-swimmer into a pool. One exchange is particularly violent, leaving the teen bloodied and bruised. Others actions -– like stealing a classmate's lunch –- cause less physical harm but are equally damaging emotionally. Tommy calls cyberbullying "online humiliation."
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Teens flirt, and, in one scene, a guy cozies up to a girl to distract her and cause her to lose a contest, but most of the physical contact is limited to closeness and some quick kissing. In another, a basket of cylindrical food (salami, pepperoni, cucumbers) are implied to be phallic.
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Rarely "hell," plus some name-calling like "loser."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Contest tackles the issue of bullying as it plays out between a high school athletic star and the downtrodden victim of his persistent physical and emotional abuse. The story follows the two as they're forced into a cooperative relationship that winds up having a positive effect on how each one views the other. Most of the incidents involve teens roughing up classmates in school halls or pressuring them into acting out against their own peers, but a few darker scenes show a non-swimmer thrown into a pool and another bloodied after a violent beat-down. The now-familiar mantra "speak up" is explored with varying degrees of success, with the teens' school's response –- forcing the bully and his victim to join forces on an unsupervised project -– being the most surprisingly ill-advised. Expect occasional language ("hell," mostly), brief physical contact between teens, and an exaggerated depiction of the social barriers in high school. Ultimately, though, the movie extols tolerance, compassion, and understanding as the greatest weapons against bullying. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Contest is a low-budget movie that lacks a certain pizzazz teens may have come to expect from the films they watch. Its plot is mostly predictable –- that is, until it veers off into extreme action like one brother running low-tech surveillance on another and some laxative-induced cooking sabotage –- and the characters are cookie-cutter versions of every social niche of the most stereotypical high school you can imagine. But, while that might threaten your teen's attention to the story, it does nothing to mar the messages it's trying to convey about tolerant relationships.
Perhaps the movie's best quality is the care it gives to showing the evolution of both of the main characters' attitudes toward each other. So often in stories of redemption, it's tempting to focus on only the offender's emotional journey, but that's not the case with Contest. Even though Matt's attitude faces the most drastic change, Tommy also finds that he needs to adjust his perspective about his peers as well as about himself. The bottom line? This movie's not likely to win any entertainment awards, but pair it with a discussion with your teens about this timely issue, and it can be another effective weapon in your anti-bullying arsenal.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.