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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Explores issues of civil rights, 20th century history, wrongful imprisonment, racism.
Positive Role Models
The two lead characters serve nearly 60 years of hard labor in a Mississippi penitentiary for a crime they didn't commit, but find ways not to let their spirit become broken.
Shows the lives of two Black men wrongly convicted of murder in Mississippi and their life sentence in a labor camp over the course of six decades. All of the convicts are Black men, and the movie doesn't shy away from the racism in all forms that has devastated their lives. Side stories include a mentally-challenged man who turns out to be a gifted baseball player drafted by a White scout in the Negro League; this character also has an affair with the White daughter of the warden, resulting in pregnancy and a situation in which he cannot admit to being the father. Two of the men in the work camp are gay, and while there are some weak and cliched prison rape jokes and insinuations early on, the movie later takes a more sympathetic tone when one of the inmates, on the verge of being paroled, chooses suicide rather than facing his mother's shame over his sexual orientation.
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Violence & Scariness
Black man murdered by corrupt police officer in Mississippi, who then frames the two lead characters when they're the first to discover the bloodied body. Lead character tied up by mob henchmen and dunked upside down in the ocean repeatedly. A gay man in the Mississippi work camp, on the verge of parole and unwilling to face his family, chooses suicide by trying to escape and gets shot to death by guards. Man shot and killed at close range. Violent fistfight between two inmates. Pistol whipping, rifle whipping. Jokes involving implied prison rape. In one scene, prisoners graphically discuss the violent acts that led to their imprisonment.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A mentally-challenged Black man serving time in the work camp in the 1940s has an affair with the daughter of the warden, at her behest, with furtive flirtations and eventual pregnancy and birth of a child and a situation in which the man cannot admit to being the father.
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Strong language throughout, including the "N" word, "f--k," and "motherf--ker." Also: "s--t," "bulls--t," "s--tter," goddamn," "ass," "piss," "damn," "hell." Racist slurs used by White characters. "Retard" used by one of the main characters.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Cigarette smoking throughout. Cigar smoking. Moonshine drinking. Champagne drinking. Prisoner shown sneaking a snort of cocaine while other inmates play poker and use their prescription pills as poker chips.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Life is a 1999 comedy in which Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence play two Harlem men wrongly convicted of murder serving time in a Mississippi work camp for over 60 years. Expect strong language throughout, including the "N" word (used by White and Black characters), "motherf--ker," and "f--k." Gun violence, including characters getting shot and killed at close range, and a Black man killed, his body left on the street bloodied by a corrupt Mississippi sheriff. In the previous scene, this sheriff's face gets sliced with a switchblade by the Black man as he tries to stand up to the sheriff's racist bullying. Pistol whipping. Violent and bloody fistfight between two prisoners. One of the lead characters is shown hanging upside down, tied with rope, and dunked into the ocean by mob henchmen at a New York City dock. A gay prisoner on the verge of parole opts for the suicide of getting shot and killed by a guard while trying to escape rather than facing the shame and disapproval of his family because of his sexual orientation. Cigarette and cigar smoking. Moonshine drinking. Champagne drinking. Brief scene of cocaine use. A character has an affair with the White daughter of the warden, resulting in pregnancy and a situation in which he cannot admit to being the father. While there's raw comedy throughout and some graphic violence, the movie also has some surprisingly serious and thoughtful moments, addressing issues such as wrongful imprisonment, institutional racism, segregation, and homophobia. 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 is a surprisingly thoughtful comedy, one that manages to address serious topics while still having moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity. Yes, Life is a buddy movie, and a buddy movie in prison movie at that, with Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence as the perpetually-bickering friends who are forced to spend over six decades of their lives in a Mississippi work camp (from the 1930s-90s), and still manage to maintain a friendship through countless ups and downs over the decades as the outside world and all its cataclysmic changes pass them by. It would've been a decent movie had this story been little more than a vehicle for Murphy and Lawrence to crack endless one-liners from one escapade to the next. But there's a serious side to this movie, addressing sadly still-relevant topics like wrongful imprisonment, racism, and homophobia. There's an unexpected empathy to these scenes that doesn't come across as forced or mawkish, and in no way slows down the comedy.
And it's a very funny movie. There's a scene near the end in which Eddie Murphy's character goes on a tirade about how cocaine is smuggled into the infirmary where he and Lawrence are supposed to be spending their last days that is flat-out hilarious. There's also a "meta" moment in the blooper reel that's amazing in and of itself. For a '90s comedy, much of the humor has held up, even as much of what is addressed is still, sadly, relevant. Maybe this will disappoint those looking for little more than an endless barrage of one-liners paired with slapstick, but for everyone else, the depth to Life is a pleasant surprise.
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