A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The message appears to be a cautionary one about the vain quest for high school social domination, but it's too muddled to be meaningful, especially when it's paired with the notion of sheltering a murderer (even for laughs).
Positive Role Models
Main teen character finally does the right thing at the end, but even that action is unmotivated and hardly excuses her previous wrongdoing. The dictator definitely isn't a role model, despite being cuddly and riding a trike. He's a torturing murderer who never once shows an interest in his people's well-being.
Violence & Scariness
Nothing is shown. But executions of political prisoners take place just offscreen, including via firing squad and hanging; they're played for laughs. A teen attempts suicide by jumping off a building (he survives), which is also played for laughs.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Offscreen, teens are filmed having sex; the video is distributed. On-screen, a foot fetishist extensively licks a woman's feet.
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Language isn't constant but does include "f--k," "s--t," "ass," "bitch," etc.
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Products & Purchases
Red Bull is briefly featured.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Dear Dictator is a high-concept comedy about the unexpected friendship between a U.S. teen (Odeya Rush) and a murderous despot (Michael Caine). It has a fair bit of strong language (including "f--k," "s--t," and more) and some sexuality (no nudity, but teens film themselves having sex off camera, and one character has a fixation on licking feet). All of the movie's violence occurs offscreen but includes executions of political prisoners and an attempted teen suicide -- all played for laughs. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This comedy has a high concept premise and little else. The idea of a sullen teen and a notorious dictator being pen pals is a rich one, open to a world of possibilities. The high school rebellion has promise, and the filmmakers do get laughs from how comically plain-spoken the despot's correspondence is: "Thank you for your lovely music. My daughter enjoyed it. The rebels have surrounded the capital." Such a comedy could go fully dark (a gloomy Goth learns about actual suffering), gonzo à la Sacha Baron Cohen's The Dictator, or nebbishy à la Woody Allen's Bananas. Or it could have been an even more subversive Heathers -- or Mean Girls with actual guerilla warfare. Unfortunately, Dear Dictator doesn't choose any true direction. It ducks the realities of despotism: Vincent is the cuddly kind of torturer and mass murderer who's handy around the house. Because viewers never learn anything about him or his country, the images of him on a tricycle or wearing a snarky T-shirt don't pay off. The filmmakers also don't seem to have thought much about his background; he's a third-generation dictator but calls himself a "rebel"? The only people we see from his country are black (he says he's "Latino at heart" or something like that) -- but he's a pale white guy with a South London accent. The film steadfastly avoids political context, apart from some weak calling-out of American hypocrisy during one of Vincent's fits of pique.
The filmmakers also take a limp stab at religious hypocrisy by featuring a romantic interest who loves the Bible and death metal and then falls into a sex tape/cyberbullying trap. Like every other thread, though, that one goes unexplored. It certainly can't gain satirical traction when the film refuses to confront the morality of Tatiana aiding and abetting a human rights violator -- and then taking coup lessons from him. Even a teen suicide attempt is played for laughs. And the off-putting B story about Tatiana's mother's desperate husband-hunting feels totally unnecessary; it's basically an excuse to show her dentist lover (Seth Green) licking her feet. Some performances are played at a jokey-jokey level, while others (notably the two leads) play it low and slow. But any chance of a Harold and Maude-type dynamic is eliminated the first time the wacky comedy music plays. As the moody Tatiana, Rush shows some talent for physical comedy. But because Dear Dictator is reluctant to dive deeply into anything, the proceedings stay at kiddie-pool depth.
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.