A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dirt Music is an Australia-set romance based on author Tim Winton's award-winning novel. The film shows off the location's gorgeous isolated coastal and island communities within the context that its beauty is dangerous. That could just as well be the message of the movie as a whole: Georgie (Kelly Macdonald) can't keep her eyes or mind off of Lu Fox (Garrett Hedlund), who's suffering emotionally due to the tragedy that killed his family. She swims naked to meet him for the first time (non-explicit scene), and eventually they have sex -- expect lots of movements and facial reactions, but their clothes stay on. References are made to Georgie being a drunk, but there's little evidence of it on-screen. And it seems like an arbitrary accusation, since everyone in this community drinks constantly -- even kids. There's also a bit of smoking. Strong language is mostly "s--t" and "f--k." Mafia-like violence is implied through the murder of a pet and destruction of property. Serious consequences arise from infidelity, drinking excessively, and not wearing a seatbelt. Themes of death, grief, regret, and depression dominate the story.
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What's the story?
Based on the award-winning Australian novel by Tim Winton, DIRT MUSIC follows Georgie (Kelly Macdonald), the restless live-in girlfriend of widowed local fishing legend Jim Buckridge (David Wenham). She's become a substitute mother for his two boys. But then she becomes intrigued by local "dirt" musician Lu Fox (Garrett Hedlund), whom she spots poaching from their lobster traps. In a small town where secrets spread faster than germs, Georgie's attraction to Lu makes him a target.
Is it any good?
It's not necessary to read Winton's novel to realize that this adaptation doesn't live up to the award-winning work that's become the pride of Western Australia. For starters, director Gregor Jordan's adaptation has some noticeable plot holes and questionable motivations. It makes assertions it never backs up, and it introduces a character who seems to have an air of menace but then never pays it off. That may be because the movie veers significantly from the source material. One of the biggest head-scratchers, however, is true to the original text. Georgie and Lu upend their lives for their sexual relationship, but it never feels like love. So, why? There's no explanation, and while the course of human history shows that certainly people have lost their families for a night or two of indiscretion, Georgie and Lu take the risk to new levels.
Crisp cinematography allows viewers to get lost in Western Australia and absorbed in its vast beauty. It provides an escape where your senses are awakened: You can almost feel the ocean breeze and smell the fishermen. That's all likely to be lost on teens, but the message -- if there really is one -- may not. Both Georgie and Lu are tormented by the pragmatic choices they made of their own accord, providing a clear example that taking the easy route isn't necessarily easy emotionally. While Dirt Music doesn't live up to its potential, there is, at least, a nugget of value.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the connection between grief, trauma, and depression. How can we help others going through these situations or emotions? How can we help ourselves?
Compare life in White Point, Australia, to life where you live. What influence do class, money, and power have? How are Georgie and Lu both stuck on the outside of the community, despite their different circumstances?
How is betrayal explored on several fronts? Is there ever a positive outcome? Why?
How is Western Australia a character equal in presence to Georgie and Lu in Dirt Music? What other films have you seen where the location influences the story?
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