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License to Drive
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the 1988 teen comedy License to Drive is a parade of successive bad decisions made by a 16-year-old who just failed his driver's license test. He drives without a license, sneaks out at night in Grandpa's car, places a sleeping drunk girl in the trunk, drives through barricades, gets the car towed and, finally, leaves it to be totaled. Grandpa understandably says "s--t" and "hell" when he sees what's left of his Caddy. Other profanity includes "f--k" and "bitch." A drunk adult driver steals the car and drinks while driving. A teenager gets drunk. While the drunk Mercedes sleeps it off in the back seat, Dean opens her shirt and takes pictures of her bra. The drunk Mercedes seems to be initiating oral sex as she drops into the driving Les's lap, but she falls asleep.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
The coveted LICENSE TO DRIVE is considered a 16-year-old boy's ticket to freedom. Les (Corey Haim) fails his DMV test but is too ashamed to admit it to his family and friends. He's also too ashamed to tell his dream date, Mercedes (Heather Graham), that he can't pick her up that night and take her out. With seemingly no consideration of possible negative consequences, Les plots to pick her up anyway. He slides his grandfather's pristine Cadillac secretly out of the garage and lets it roll into the bushes, wrecking the garden. Much more wrecking is ahead as he makes one terrible decision after another. Due to his irresponsibility, the car is towed, driven through a barrier, and stolen by a drunk who stops it at a cliff just before the car falls over. Drunk Mercedes is stashed in the large trunk while Les and his pals drive to a local diner to pick up girls. Cops stop him. Drag racers threaten him and a steel beam slams into the Caddy's white vinyl roof. Grandpa doesn't even mind. This is a teen fantasy.
Is it any good?
The filmmakers capture the embarrassment suburban teens feel when they yearn for independence but lack the wheels to achieve it. It would be difficult for any adult to watch License to Drive without experiencing an unending series of anxiety attacks. For health reasons, adults are therefore cautioned. That said, the movie undermines that legitimate observation with a celebration of the prefrontal lobes, the part of the teenage brain that is too underdeveloped to prevent impulse control. And that overkill is followed by one long car chase, the last refuge of a director who doesn't know what else to do. Teens may enjoy watching peers make bad decisions but most will understand that stealing Grandpa's prized car and driving without a license are activities bound, in real life, to result in an unpleasant aftermath. Although Les lies and drives illegally, he does avoid the behaviors modeled in many popular teen films -- smoking, drinking, bullying, doing drugs, and having sex. In any case, it's odd that after getting away with lying and destroying the car, Les jumps into his girlfriend's car right in front of his parents and drives off, still, we have to assume, without a license.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how likely it is that any one teenager could possibly perform as many irresponsible acts in a single night as Les does in License to Drive. Do you think the overkill is what makes this funny?
Les wants to impress a girl, so he drives without a license. Later he locks her in the trunk so he can meet other girls that same night. What would be the real-life consequences of doing something like this?
After the adventure, his father mentions that the mom and dad will no longer trust Les, but in the end, Les is forgiven. Do you think the ending is unrealistic? Do you think Les deserved punishment? Why?
For kids who love the '80s
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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.