Live from New York!

Movie review by
Betsy Bozdech, Common Sense Media
Live from New York! Movie Poster Image
Docu underlines Saturday Night Live's cultural impact.
  • NR
  • 2015
  • 90 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Focuses on the cultural impact Saturday Night Live has had during its (first) 40 years on the air. Frankly addresses the show's ups and downs but always circles back to its ability to reflect and impact everything from the political process to the nation's feelings after 9/11. Themes include collaboration, competition, and the need for a diverse cast/viewpoint (which has often been a challenge for the show).

Positive Role Models & Representations

Interviewees and featured cast/crew members are all real, flawed people, but they clearly work hard and appreciate the impact of their work. Addresses criticism the show has faced regarding perceived lack of opportunity for women and minorities (several stances/positions taken). One clip shows a white cast member in blackface; others show controversial hosts (like Andrew Dice Clay) and moments (Sinead O'Connor ripping up a picture of the Pope).

Violence

News footage includes clips of 9/11 coverage/aftermath, war violence, protests, etc.; interviewees discuss their personal feelings about some of these events. Sketch clips include a few violent moments played for humor -- for example, a woman being slapped and verbal references to lynching and rape. Other skits reference violent events (Iraq wars, for example).

Sex

A few clips include innuendo, kissing (both between actors and in news footage), women in skimpy lingerie, mention of bras/thongs, a dentist's sexy dating service video, a skit that compares playing Wii to masturbation, etc.

Language

Pretty infrequent, but strong; words include "s--t," "motherf---er," "f--k," "d--k," "ass," "hell," "crap," "screwed," "piss," "dammit," "bitch," and "bulls--t."

Consumerism

Some products/brands mocked, others mentioned by name (Twitter, TMZ, YouTube).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some sketch clips include references to substance use (ex. "American Dope Growers Union" sketch from 1970s).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Live from New York! is a documentary about long-running sketch show Saturday Night Live. Rather than showcasing memorable sketches (though bits and pieces are certainly seen), the film focuses on how the show has consistently reflected and impacted the United States' culture, from politics to music to the dawn of the viral video age. High-profile interviewees (Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Tom Brokaw, and many, many more) discuss everything from the show's beginnings to ongoing criticism regarding its perceived lack of opportunities for women and minorities. Interviews are mixed with clips from news footage and the show itself; viewers will see violent images (war, 9/11, protests, etc.), some racy bits (kissing, innuendo, references to masturbation, etc.), and controversial moments (for example, Sinead O'Connor ripping up a picture of the Pope). Language isn't constant but does include variations on "f--k" and other salty words; there are also a few references to partying and drug use.

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What's the story?

From the moment it debuted on Oct. 11, 1975, Saturday Night Live has had a powerful impact on the culture and society it so loves to skewer every week. And for four decades and counting, it has continued to serve as both a reflection of and response to the most important events taking place in the United States, from the dawning of the Regan era to 9/11 and beyond. Or at least, that's the position of LIVE FROM NEW YORK!, a documentary that shares its name with Tom Shales' best-selling behind-the-scenes book about the show, which was first published in 2005. Mixing sketch clips, real-life news footage, and interviews with everyone from creator Lorne Michaels to past and present writers and cast and crew members to well-known personalities like Tom Brokaw and Rudy Giuliani, the film examines the show's history, evolution, and cultural impact.

Is it any good?

It's impossible to fully capture the breadth of SNL's 40 seasons in an hour and a half, but Live from New York! is still an interesting look at what has become a true cultural institution. It covers the show's impact on popular music, politics, and much more. And the filmmakers rounded up an impressive list of talent to interview, from early cast members like Chevy Chase and Jane Curtin to more recent stand-outs like Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Andy Samberg, as well as politicians (Giuliani), journalists (Brokaw, Soledad O'Brien), and -- of course -- show patriarch Michaels. The interviewees offer their thoughts on everything from the series' initial conception as a "cross of 60 Minutes and Monty Python" to the notion that the way cast members portrayed Al Gore and George W. Bush could have influenced the results of the 2000 election.

That said, Live from New York! may be most entertaining for those who don't know much about what's gone on behind the scenes over the years; viewers who do already know a fair bit about the show's history -- its near-death in the early '80s, the ongoing claims of sexism in the writers' ranks, etc. -- likely won't learn much new. And viewers just looking for their favorite sketches may be disappointed (though there are bits and pieces of a lot of the classics, as well as moments that don't make most of the clip reels -- "Ira Needleman the Singing Dentist," anyone?), since there are more talking-head interviews than skit montages. Brief glimpses into the writers' offices and other backstage spaces are some of the film's most fascinating scenes; a documentary that brought us more of that and a little less self-congratulatory back patting would be more in tune with the show's subversive spirit.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why Saturday Night Live has lasted so long. What makes it succeed? What do people expect it to deliver? How would you describe its relationship with American culture and society?

  • What's the purpose of satire in our culture? How do you feel when someone you admire is being made fun of -- like a politician or celebrity? What would our culture be like if we weren't allowed to mock authority figures and role models?

  • Did Live from New York! meet your expectations for a documentary about this long-running show? What would you have liked to see more of? Less of? What would you include if you were making a movie about SNL?

  • Saturday Night Live has dealt with some pretty racy content over the years and has often relied on stereotypes for humor. Parents, make sure teens understand the layers of comedy. What makes something funny rather than offensive? Why do some people interpret comedy one way and some another?

Movie details

For kids who love comedy and documentaries

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