A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
All about being yourself in the face of the stiffest resistance -- and that's not just the out-and-proud main character, but also several other teens who have to accept things about themselves despite social pressure. Presents a realistic perspective on change: It's slow, and patience, courage, and bruises are sometimes necessary. Promotes empathy and values courage.
Positive Role Models
Billy displays significant courage and ingenuity in the face of stiff resistance. His friends and allies also show bravery. Though one parental figure turns out to be toxic, two others are caring, and one is at least willing to struggle through the work of acceptance.
Violence & Scariness
A disturbing hate crime in which a gang of masked teens savagely beats a helpless, non-resisting gay teen. The repercussions, including a hospital stay and rehabilitation, are shown. Another minor fistfight between teens. A forceful attempted kiss.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
No sex or nudity shown. In one scene, Billy is humiliated when he gets aroused during gym class (but the body part in question isn't shown).
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Cursing includes a few uses of words such as "a--holes." Also many homophobic slurs: "f-g, "f--got," "butt buddy," etc.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Midler's character is an alcoholic; there are mentions of rehab, and viewers see her teen son mixing her a drink. She gets drunk in front of another teen boy.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that although Freak Show is about rising above homophobia in high school, it doesn't have much iffy content and is age-appropriate for most young teens. Characters do use homophobic slurs ("f-g," etc.) and other mild profanity ("a--hole"), and there's one disturbing scene of a hate crime against a non-resisting gay teen, but these moments are balanced by the many examples of support that main character Billy (Alex Lawther) receives. Billy's mom (Bette Midler) is an alcoholic, and there's a scene in which he's humiliated for getting aroused during gym class, but nothing graphic is shown. With themes of empathy and courage, the film -- which is based on the same-named novel by James St. James -- might be helpful for many teens who are just starting to grapple with these issues, as well as for those who are wondering how to be allies. Abigail Breslin and AnnaSophia Robb co-star; Trudie Styler directs. 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 film is the rare empowerment tale that doesn't feel condescending or rote. It's lively and witty, largely due to a script (adapted by Patrick J. Clifton and Beth Rigazio from James St. James' bestseller) that's loaded with gems that drip with panache from Lawther's mouth. For example, the transplanted showbiz fan refers to his school's mean girls as "The ladies who lynch." And when they refer to "people like you," he responds, "You mean amazing people?" When a teacher stands by as Billy is attacked by his classmates, Billy asks, "You're just going to stand there like a good German?" Then, after his first day at school is filled with general hatred, he swoops in his front door and fabulously proclaims, "I was a hit!" Lawther has the withering delivery and pain beneath Billy's external glitter down. The cast is strong in general, with Midler perfectly placed as the idolized Muv and veteran character actor Pine turning in a genuine performance as William. Robb is charming as the busy bee with a plan, and Nelson is well-cast as the big man on campus who might be there to help ... or to hurt. There are also well-placed cameos by John McEnroe as a coach/gym teacher and Laverne Cox as a reporter (her delivery of the simple line "I do not" is a scene stealer).
Freak Show marks the feature directorial debut of actress-producer-philanthropist Trudie Styler (wife of Sting), and it's quite self-assured. She's aided by twice Oscar-nominated cinematographer Dante Spinotti (The Last of the Mohicans, The Insider), editor Sarah Flack (Lost in Translation), and costume, hair, and makeup departments (headed by Lisa Harlow-Powell, Jennifer Tremont, and Anouck Sullivan) that must have had a great time with Billy's many outfits and mood changes. Styler's approach is calm and trusting of her actors and material. We get to see people relating to each other; we get to feel the emotional punches land. Part of that trust is shown in Styler's decision to not over-score moments: She switches between Dan Romer's score and well-chosen pop songs. Styler and company effectively deliver the material's message, as spoken by Billy, which is either "You're all freaks, too; isn't that what being a teenager is all about?" or "Without hope, you cannot live, and without glamour, you can't live well."
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.