A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that most kids probably won't be interested in this period romantic drama, which deals with mature, somewhat abstract themes -- art, aging, inspiration, and originality. It focuses on a passionate, if chaste, relationship between the aging Beethoven and a young woman who works for him. The film includes some general vulgarities (references to bodily functions, filth, rats), a few occasions when Beethoven is drunk and unruly, and scenes featuring his dissolute nephew gambling and behaving badly (he grabs Anna's breasts). Characters argue loudly, and Anna cries when Beethoven berates her. Occasional mild language ("s--t" is the worst of it).
- Parents say
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What's the story?
COPYING BEETHOVEN chronicles the last days of Ludwig van Beethoven (Ed Harris). Hired to transcribe Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the fictional Anna Holtz (Diane Kruger) is also an aspiring composer who hopes to have the master help her with her own work. A student at the local conservatory, Anna wants to write great music; she imagines that copying for the master -- who's about to unveil the Ninth Symphony -- will help her in her career. But on her very first day, she does the unthinkable: She doesn't just copy a page of music, she alters it. Beethoven flies into a rage, of course, but Anna stands her ground, insisting that her change is what he must have intended. He admires her "spunk," and thus their collaboration is born.
Is it any good?
Copying Beethoven offers occasional enchantments, but it leans too heavily on stiff explanatory dialogue, usually filtered through the awkward role of the copyist. Anna serves as that most obvious of movie devices -- an audience stand-in. She's by turns awed, upset, and/or put off by Beethoven's broadly abusive persona.
While the pair's back-and-forthing is mostly mundane, their partnership leads to a spectacular scene in which Beethoven conducts the Ninth for the first time in public. Though he can't hear it, Anna conducts it from within the orchestra -- he can copy her copying him. With glorious music and a cascade of dissolving frames, the scene is easily the film's highlight, underscoring its point: that copying is a form of art in itself, a way to refine, alter, and make art again.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the creative process. How does the movie make the processes of composing and listening to music seem dynamic, rather than quiet, personal activities? How does it show that music is a sensual, emotional, and visceral means of communication? How does Anna provide a model of good moral behavior for her cantankerous employer? Does the movie make you any more interested in classical music?
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