A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mask is a deeply moving and inspirational film about a teenage boy whose face is disfigured by a genetic defect. Based on a true story, the boy, Rocky Dennis, is a positive role model who almost always manages to maintain a sense of humor and a positive attitude in spite of ridicule from strangers and frequent headaches from his condition. Rocky's mother and his close friends see the sweet and intelligent kid within, and treat him like just another teenager growing up. Rocky tries to help his mother in her struggles with drug addiction, and she is seen smoking marijuana, snorting cocaine, taking pills, buying drugs from a dealer, and appearing high and/or drunk. Rocky and his mother's extended family is a rough-and-tumble yet goodhearted biker gang, usually seen drinking beer, smoking, and partying. Profanity is also often used throughout the film. And there is a scene with a prostitute but no sex or nudity.
What's the story?
MASK is based on the true story of Rocky Dennis (Eric Stoltz), a teenager with a genetic defect -- craniodiaphseal dysplasia -- that turned his face into a huge "mask" of bone. Rocky's mom, Rusty (Cher), is a wild, tough woman who constantly fights for her son's right to lead a normal life. When a new doctor tells Rocky he's got just a few months to live, mom and son refuse to listen, since Rocky has outlived earlier diagnoses. When Rocky becomes a counselor's aide at a summer camp for the blind, he meets Diana (Laura Dern). Romance blossoms, but Diana's parents disapprove. Back at home, Rocky battles with his mom about her alcohol and drug abuse, and driving out her boyfriend Gar (Sam Elliott).
Is it any good?
This is not a typical "disease of the week" movie about someone triumphing over adversity; it is a far more complex and moving story about two people who love and care for and about each other. Though in other aspects of her life Rusty is completely irresponsible, even dissolute, with Rocky she is the ideal of maternal strength and commitment. And Rocky is a source of strength for her, too, acting almost as her parent.
Mask has several exceptionally touching moments, and it shows us over and over again that it is not about an "abnormal" boy in a normal world, but about a real boy in a world where everyone is different. As he says, "I look weird, but otherwise I'm real normal." Rocky has some interesting ways of coping with his problems. He has his version of Pollyanna's "Glad Game," using happy memories to help him through hard times. And his mother, who herself uses drugs, helps him manage his headaches without drugs by "talking them away."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way Rocky handles the fact that he is physically different from others. What other movies have you seen about outsiders and people with disabilities? Do you think Mask is a fresh, effective take on this topic?
Why don't the parents of Diana, who is blind, want her to see Rocky? Does that surprise you?
How do Rocky and Rusty take care of each other? Give some examples. Why is Rusty better at taking care of Rocky than she is at taking care of herself?
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