A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that there are plenty of flinch-inducing situations including one where Al's father pressures his son to have sex without any regard to his son's emotional maturity or to the strength of the relationship his son might have. The most painful of these scenes involves Mr. Johnson demonstrating how to put a condom on a bottle with one hand while keeping the attention of an imaginary girlfriend. Young men are repeatedly told that they should be "players", not respecting their female counterparts as people but seeing them instead as objects. Finally, the movie seems to buy into a high school notion of merit, with a person's worth measured by who they are dating and which expensive labels they wear.
What's the story?
Unsatisfied with his nerdy reputation, Alvin Johnson (Nick Cannon) takes dramatic steps to become popular before he graduates from high school. Alvin has saved up enough money to complete the engine he's building to win a contest for a full college scholarship. Meanwhile, popular girl Paris Morgan (Christina Milian) needs exactly the same amount of money to fix her mom's car, which she wrecked. So Alvin makes a deal: Paris must pretend to date him for two weeks. Paris soon transforms Alvin into "Al", who dresses in expensive clothes and hangs out on the "Elite" corridor at school. Gradually, Paris and Al become friends, each finding strength in the other's advice and support. But power goes to Alvin's head and he jeopardizes everything -- including his friendships and his scholarship -- when he places his newly found popularity above all else.
Is it any good?
Love Don't Cost a Thing is awkward and unpleasant, even smarmy, and particularly offensive for a movie for this age group. This update of the 1987 hit Can't Buy Me Love has an African-American cast, but unfortunately this otherwise mediocre bit of cinematic fluff adds some painfully inappropriate plot devices that bring what little energy the movie had to a crashing halt. The only scenes that seem unforced and natural are when Alvin and Paris are on their own, and only because of Christina Milian.
Troy Beyer's awkward direction is another distraction. She shoots the big "son, no matter what, I've always been proud of you" scene lit from below as if Alvin and his father had accidentally wandered onto the set of a Spielberg movie. Even the final "love me as I am" scene when Alvin declares who he is to the applause of the crowd falls flat.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Paris' view on popularity. They might also want to discuss why Paris was unable to express her aspiration to be more than "an NBA wife" and why her friends might resist the idea of her wanting to be something beyond their ken, such as becoming a songwriter. How does the relationship between Alvin and his father change over the course of the movie?
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