Mixed Signals

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Mixed Signals Movie Poster Image
'90s coming-of-age drama has smoking, drinking, cursing.
  • NR
  • 1997
  • 83 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

No positive messages. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters in their 20s trying to figure out the next phase of their lives. 

Violence

Punches thrown during a fight in an office, character shown shortly with a bruised face. 

Sex

Two characters shown on the verge of having sex, then shown after sex -- no nudity. Two other characters start passionately kissing in bed. One of the characters talks of how he "nailed" a girl he tricked into thinking he was wealthier than he actually is. 

Language

Regular use of profanity. "F--k," "p---y," "bitch," "pissed off," "damn," "sucks." Talk of "getting faced." Character brags about how he "nailed" a woman. Middle finger gesture. 

Consumerism

Reference to Dewars and Sam Adams, characters drink Heineken. Scene in a BMW dealership where one of the lead characters purchases a BMW convertible. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One of the characters uses cocaine. Constant cigarette smoking. Two characters get drunk and then have sex. One of the characters swigs from a bottle of vodka while ripping a hardcover book to shreds. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Mixed Signals is a 1997 indie drama about three Gen Xers in their 20s trying to figure out their lives. There's plenty of cigarette smoke to go with the ennui in this oh-so-'90s movie; in addition, one of the characters uses cocaine, and all three get drunk. Characters have sex -- the beginning is shown and the aftermath, no nudity. Frequent profanity, including "f--k" and "p---y," to punctuate the fatalistic irony and despairing sarcasm. Parents who came of age in the 1990s may enjoy the nostalgia this movie inspires, but their older teens might snicker at the fashions and the jaded affectations. 

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What's the story?

In MIXED SIGNALS, Judy (Brooke Langton), Alex (Jason London), and Nick (Peter Johansson) are three best friends in their 20s in 1990s Southern California, and they have come to a fork in the road of their lives. Judy can either apply her 150 IQ and go to Stanford or else follow the boyfriend who has just proposed marriage to her via answering machine, telling her to sign for the engagement ring when it's delivered to her door via the US Mail. Alex works in the lower rank of a PR agency, abusing credit to make himself look wealthier than he is. Nick is a struggling novelist pushing 30 who works in a coffee shop; he's also in love with Judy. They hang out at coffee shops, take road trips into the desert, go to lackluster parties, drinking and smoking while pontificating on the meaning of life. Things take a turn when Judy and Nick have drunken sex. Judy has still not signed for the ring, ignoring the postman's knocks on her door. As circumstances for all three of them spiral and unravel, they must each decide how they'll take the initiative in their lives to find a way to grow up and maybe even be content, if not happy.  

Is it any good?

This is like some long-lost artifact unearthed to show the young adults of today what so-called "Generation X" was like when they were their age way back in the 1990s. The characters slouch and shrug and slack and scoff at everything around them while saying things like, "I don't know if I'm hungry or bored." Everything is irony and sarcasm and self-absorption, almost to the point of self-parody. The understimulation of the era now seems shocking in this overstimulated age, where it seems like it has been Millennial-everything for centuries. 

Sadly, that's where the entertainment value ends in Mixed Signals. The self-parody cuts both ways. With the exception of Brooke Langton's character, no one is especially likeable, and these characters aren't saying anything Ben Stiller, Ethan Hawke, and Richard Linklater hadn't already tried to say. Still, one can't help but see the dated charm in it, like a fully stocked cassette case found in storage or some "alternative" hit from those years playing in the supermarket. Nostalgia is strong in this one: hearkening back to a time more innocent than any of the malcontents of that era could have possibly understood, a time when everything was "whatever" and a shrug instead of "ZOMG" and a dozen emojis. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Parents can talk about coming-of-age movies like Mixed Signals. How have they changed yet stayed the same throughout the decades? 

  • How does the movie seem to embody the time in which it was made, the 1990s?

  • How was drug and alcohol use portrayed? Did it seem glamorized, or simply a part of who the characters were? 

Movie details

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