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, inspirational, fact-based film about a teenage boy who has facial differences due to a genetic condition. The boy, Rocky Dennis (Eric Stoltz), 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 dependency; she's 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 sex worker but no sex or nudity.
- Parents say
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What's the story?
MASK is based on the true story of Rocky Dennis (Eric Stoltz), a teenager with a genetic condition -- craniodiaphseal dysplasia -- that resulted in his face looking like 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 mainstream life. When a new doctor tells Rocky that he's got just a few months to live, both 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 use, and driving out her boyfriend Gar (Sam Elliott).
Is it any good?
This isn't a typical "disease of the week" movie about someone triumphing over adversity; it's 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 differences and disabilities? Do you think Mask is a fresh, effective take on this topic?
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?
- In theaters: March 8, 1985
- On DVD or streaming: September 7, 2004
- Cast: Cher, Eric Stoltz, Sam Elliott
- Director: Peter Bogdanovich
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- Last updated: March 31, 2021
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