A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie depicts an acrimonious divorce. Doyle is angry and is verbally abusive to his mother, which may give some kids bad ideas about how to treat their mom. Reed is a lying, philandering jerk who neglects his son, which may be difficult for some children of divorce to see. Generally, Doyle is treated poorly by both Reed and Dutch, but he comes to love Dutch because, presumably, Dutch keeps showing up, even if he's borderline abusive.
What's the story?
It's Thanksgiving weekend, and the wounds are still fresh from Natalie (JoBeth Williams) and Reed's (Christopher McDonald) divorce. Between the two is a pissed-off preteen, Doyle (Ethan Embry), who looks down on working-class people, bullies other students, and generally unleashes rage on the world. Enter Dutch (Ed O'Neill), a working-class guy who considers Doyle's tantrums "about as worrisome as a cloudy day." Dutch takes on the job of driving Doyle from his southern prep school to his mom's Chicago home. Along the way, the two "boys" get into some knock-down, drag-out fights; one car gets totaled; they get robbed by two prostitutes; and Doyle gets to see what it's like to be working class at a homeless shelter.
Is it any good?
DUTCH is an argument for the strong male role model in a boy's life, even if that role model is a swearing, cigar-smoking parental figure who turns borderline abusive as a kind of reverse psychology. The trouble with this movie is that it's trying to be both a family-values film and a teen version of A Christmas Carol. Doyle learns to respect people who have less money than he does, but the whose-is-bigger posturing between a grown man (Dutch) and a young boy (Doyle) is ridiculous. And the only women in the film are ditsy waitresses, prostitutes, and a completely ineffectual mother.
In fact, the most interesting part of the film is how Natalie's helplessness is a prerequisite for Doyle to play the big, strong man. If Natalie would just stand up to her son and tell him to can the insults, Dutch wouldn't need to be the knight in shining armor. Unwittingly, Dutch teaches teens a little something about gender roles and how you can't have one without the other.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the appropriate way for parents to treat children. Is Dutch's approach better than Reed's? How about how Natalie acts? Does the movie reflect a realistic situation? Especially for children of divorce, this movie can be a springboard to talk about how they feel their parents treat them now.
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