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 engaging documentary based on the same-named book tries to explain some complicated and unorthodox economic theories by examining unusual questions ... and consequently arriving at unexpected conclusions (such as linking a drop in the crime rate to the legalization of abortion 20 years earlier). Although most of the content isn't too strong -- there's some language (including "s--t") and a handful of scenes that feature violence or near-nudity -- younger viewers might find the whole thing too hard to grasp.
What's the story?
Based on the bestselling book of the same name, FREAKONOMICS attempts to break down dense economic theories and data into digestible bits. Comprising four main documentary segments, each made by a different director -- including Super Size Me’s Morgan Spurlock, Taxi to the Dark Side’s Alex Gibney, Why We Fight’s Eugene Jarecki, and Jesus Camp’s Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady -- the film examines trends and widely held assumptions and arrives at useful wisdom. Subject matter ranges from real estate to abortion to sumo, and along with the standard interviews and scenes of real people doing real things, the film also uses animated sequences to illustrate some key points.
Is it any good?
As good as such wonky material can get, Freakonomics is an admirable attempt at discourse, relying not just on the printed page but also visuals. In many ways, it succeeds: The four main segments are weighty, interesting, and, yes, sometimes controversial, including Levitt’s theory that legalized abortion led to decreased incidents of violent crime 20 years later. And some insights are meaty: Reading parenting books won’t help you raise a child who’s better and cooler; causation isn’t correlation; the sport of sumo is artful, yes, but quite possibly troubled; social and moral incentives matter.
Nevertheless, Freakonomics lacks cohesion, which may not be all that surprising given how it stitches disparate “episodes” fashioned by different directors sourced from a book written by two authors. Having a handful of directors with different storytelling techniques makes the movie feel disjointed; of all of them, Gibney’s sumo expose is most lyrical and Jarecki’s most surprising. It feels like five episodes from a TV series that we’d love to follow. Flaws aside, it's worth watching, if only to give your brain an entertaining workout.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the difference between correlation and causality. Do you understand why things that happen at the same time might not be related? Can you explain the difference between these two key concepts?
Do you think that the book Freakonomics was a good choice to make into a movie? Do you think these complex concepts work well on the screen? Can you think of any other unlikely books that were made into movies, good or bad?
- In theaters: October 1, 2010
- On DVD or streaming: January 25, 2011
- Cast: Stephen J. Dubner, Steven D. Levitt
- Directors: Alex Gibney, Eugene Jarecki, Heidi Ewing, Morgan Spurlock, Rachel Grady, Seth Gordon
- Studio: Magnolia Pictures
- Genre: Documentary
- Run time: 86 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: elements of violence, sexuality/nudity, drugs, and brief strong language
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.