Poor messages in coming-of-age comedy with drugs, alcohol.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Drunk Bus is a comedy about a depressed character who gets out of his funk after making a series of iffy, if not immoral, choices. The movie presents Michael (Charlie Tahan) as a loser, partially because he's a virgin who hasn't emotionally recovered from his breakup with his high school sweetheart. Enter Pineapple (Pineapple Tangaroa, playing himself), a Samoan American with a big personality who offers "wisdom" and goads Michael to engage in reckless behavior like shoplifting, smoking weed, drinking, abandoning his responsibilities, and acting out with violence (physical fighting with blood). At some point, Michael recognizes that he's been acting on flawed advice, but it's just temporary, and, of course, it's all played for laughs. And ultimately, the movie's main message is that it's better to act up than to settle down. Mature content includes simulated sex (including a problematic scene in which one partner is asleep), sensuality (a shirtless woman is shown from the back during a make-out session), implied masturbation, and extremely strong language ("f--k," s--t," etc.). As the movie's title suggests, there's also lots of drinking -- plus drug use and smoking.
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What's the Story?
Just like the circular route he takes all night while driving the DRUNK BUS on his college campus, Michael's (Charlie Tahan) life has become an endless loop. Then Samoan American Pineapple (Pineapple Tangaroa, playing himself) is hired to ride along as a security guard, and, while he ensures the ride is safe, he takes Michael out of his own safety zone and encourages him to engage with all life has to offer. The story is based on events in co-director Brandon LaGanke's own life.
Is It Any Good?
As "Zero to Hero" comedies go, this is one of the strangest -- and one of the most irresponsible. Michael may not be living his best life, but at least he's got some integrity. Which means that the lesson here seems to be to break out of your rut and embrace irresponsibility with drugs, alcohol, violence, and random hook-ups. It's certainly not the first film to take this approach: The Hangover, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and even The Graduate revolve around similar premises. What those films had going for them, though, is that they're legitimately hilarious and/or examples of excellent filmmaking, and Drunk Bus offers only a few guffaws. Plus, those films are funny because viewers understand that the characters' outlandish behavior is wrong, but this movie doesn't carry the same weight. Michael's antics under Pineapple's guidance may all come across as reasonable to the college crowd, and the "based on a true story" label suggests that Michael's iffy behavior leads to a positive outcome. As viewed by teens, Drunk Bus requires extremely critical thought, since Michael's route to self-discovery could just as easily be portrayed as his downfall.
Traditionally underrepresented groups are featured in supporting roles; there are AAPI, disabled, and LGBTQ+ characters. But few of these portrayals are actually positive. Women are all sexual objects, and their sexuality is the butt of the joke. A disabled character's failing mental health is a running gag. And Pineapple is recognizably a version of the problematic character type known as the "magical Negro" -- i.e., a wise character of color who exists only to help a White character achieve a goal. Here, Pineapple is actually a negative influence, but he's positioned as positive. Yes, we learn there's more to Pineapple than meets the eye, and a critical thinker may realize that his behavior has likely caused problems in his life, but it's not overtly clear. And, utlimately, even if we are to realize that Michael's choices under Pineapple's tutelage are poor ones, he does accomplish the personal growth he needs to move forward in life. For the viewers of this tepid comedy, the laugh is on us.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the "magical Negro" storytelling device and why it's problematic. Do you think the character of Pineapple fits into this stereotype/cliché?
How does Drunk Bus fit into the genre of "so wrong" movies like The Hangover or Bad Teacher? How do those movies indicate that the characters' behavior is wrong? Do you think this film suggests that the "so wrong" behavior is actually "so right"?
Look at Michael and his situation from different perspectives. How does the film paint him as a "loser"? Now, reexamine Michael as a positive character. You can do the same with Pineapple: Describe him as the fim's hero, and then as the villain.
Talk about the signs that Michael is depressed. What positive steps could he take to help himself move on?
- In theaters: May 21, 2021
- On DVD or streaming: May 21, 2021
- Cast: Charlie Tahan, Kara Hayward, Pineapple Tangaroa
- Directors: John Carlucci, Brandon LaGanke
- Studio: FilmRise
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Cars and Trucks
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: November 18, 2022
Our Editors Recommend
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