Kodachrome

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgas..., Common Sense Media
Kodachrome Movie Poster Image
Heavy family drama has language and mature themes.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 100 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No positive messages.

Positive Role Models & Representations

A renowned photographer loves his work more than he loves his family. He excuses his bad behavior toward the people he supposedly loves by explaining that great artists -- like himself -- aren't nice people and that art doesn't come out of happiness. A man whose mother died young and whose father abandoned him has trouble moving forward in life.

Violence

A selfish and narcissistic father abandons his young son. The father is verbally abusive and generally a hurtful jerk. A sick man is found unconscious on the floor.
 

Sex

A man and woman fall onto a motel bed and kiss while clothed. Presumably they have sex. It's suggested that a man had sex years before with his brother's wife. A man makes references to the size of his and his son's penises. A man talks about feeling fake breasts in his hands.

Language

"F--k," "s--t," "bastard," "c--k," "d--k," "ass," "balls," "screw," "t-ts," "piss."
 

Consumerism

A few select and passionate consumers are devoted to a tried and true but old product about to be discontinued by a company trying to keep up with new technology. Many aspects of our lives are dictated by the efforts of corporations to discard solid products in order to produce new ones that will appeal to younger buyers.   

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A man dying of cancer smokes marijuana and cigarettes. Adults drink alcohol. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Kodachrome is an emotional story that explores the repercussions of growing up with a dysfunctional, selfish parent. Abandonment, emotional inaccessibility, handling the death of loved ones, and how families can both cause and heal psychological wounds are among the adult themes. Given that an adult character carries around hurt first established in his teenage years, some mature teens may find it easy to relate. A character dying of cancer smokes cigarettes and marijuana. A clothed couple is seen kissing on a bed, soon to make love. A man makes references to the size of his and his son's penises. A man talks about feeling fake breasts in his hands. Expect to hear language including "f--k," "s--t," "c--k," "d--k," and "bastard."

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What's the story?

Screenwriter Jonathan Tropper was inspired by a 2010 news story about the discontinuation of the title's KODACHROME, a kind of color film used by photography devotees and professionals. As the film opens, Ben (Ed Harris), the terminally ill and famed photographer, has only days to get a few rolls he shot decades before to the last shop still processing the film, which happens to be in Kansas. The photographer's agent, Larry (Dennis Haysbert), and nurse/personal assistant, Zooey (Elizabeth Olsen), persuade his estranged son, Matt (Jason Sudeikis), a failing record label executive, to drive him and Zooey to the processing shop and to use the resulting images for a final exhibition of his work. Matt wants nothing to do with his father, a man who cheated on Matt's mother, abandoned the family, and wasn't there for Matt when his mother died. Well-connected Larry dangles the chance to have a sit-down with a band Matt has been unsuccessfully courting in exchange for taking the drive. Thus begins a road trip with a self-obsessed, insult-slinging, dying dad, his sullen, lonely, and resentful son, and the pretty nurse that one of them is bound to fall in love with by movie's end. Forgiveness for past transgressions is mechanically achieved and references are made to accepting people as they come, with all their flaws.

Is it any good?

With its "unavoidable" road trip (Why couldn't Ben get to the photo shop by plane? Because the script says so.) and heard-it-all-before family dysfunction, Kodachrome is predictable and shopworn. The first three quarters so closely follow a formula used in earlier movies (NebraskaWhen Harry Met SallyThe Guilt Trip, etc.) that it is at times hard to believe Kodachrome came out in 2018. But if you've never seen a film in which two people who don't get along are thrown together for a life-changing experience, then this may be mildly enjoyable.

Fortunately, powerful performances in the film's last half-hour redeem much of the cookie-cutter banality. That writer Tropper (who also wrote the book and movie This Is Where I Leave You) took the true story of Kodachrome's final days and imposed a creaky, emotionally overwrought, paint-by-numbers plot onto it in no way excuses his lack of creativity, which is ironic as the artistic urge and its relentlessness is one of the film's themes. There's no denying that Ed Harris is a great actor, and his talent cannot be masked even by the generic, unnecessarily mean, selfish lines his character is forced to utter. Harris simply can't overcome clichés and banalities here about the importance of family and forgiveness and the need for mere mortals to see past the terrible acts of great men just because those men are, well, great. Sudeikis is convincing as the miserable son who blames his father for being a terrible man, but it's not his fault that the script never explores the way in which Matt has never looked at himself closely enough to wonder if he isn't, in his own way, a terrible man, too. (And this is a movie about a guy who looks at things for a living.) Also note that the film was shot on good old, old-fashioned 35mm Kodak film. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how frequently people who say they love each other are able to hurt each other. Do you think it's important for family members to communicate their feelings?

  • How does Kodachrome want you to feel about the cantankerous father? What are some of the ways the movie talks about forgiveness?

  • Family members often hurt each other and often forgive each other. How badly do you think someone would have to behave for family members never to find forgiveness?

  • How does this compare to other family dramas you've seen?

Movie details

For kids who love road trips

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