Moscow on the Hudson

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Moscow on the Hudson Movie Poster Image
Charming Cold War-era immigrant story has cursing, sex.
  • R
  • 1984
  • 117 minutes

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

Positive Messages

Immigrants are hardworking and eager to participate in the "American Dream" as they try to take full advantages of all the freedoms offered in America. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Vladimir is a kind, hardworking immigrant, a defector from the Soviet Union who still feels connected to his family and the culture he left behind as he tries to make sense of America and the highs and lows of life in New York City. 

Violence

A man is mugged at gunpoint in the entryway to his apartment; he fights back but is hit in the face and knocked down. 

Sex

A man and a woman have sex -- female nudity (breasts, buttocks). A man and a woman are reclined in a bathtub, female nudity (breasts). In a hotel room, a man compares a shower cap to a condom. Talk of casual sex. 

Language

Frequent profanity, including one use of "motherf---ker" and "f--k." "Bulls--t." "S--t." "Bitch." "Piss." "Balls." "Ass." A security guard in a department store, upon seeing two Russian men hiding in a dressing room from the KGB, speaks in a disgusted tone about "fags everywhere." 

Consumerism

Scenes in Bloomingdales and McDonald's. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cocktail drinking. Vodka drinking. Cigar smoking. In an extended scene, two characters are extremely drunk while walking down the street, passing a bottle of booze back and forth between each other. A man is so drunk, he hallucinates seeing family members who live on the other side of the world. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Moscow on the Hudson is a 1984 movie in which Robin Williams plays a saxophonist from the Soviet Union who defects to the United States. Despite its '80s Cold War backdrop, this movie, because of its bigger themes of immigrants who want to live in America as they work hard and try to make sense of their new culture while retaining their heritage and traditions, should inspire thought and discussion about immigrants in America, how they have enriched American culture, and how they're often portrayed. There are two nude scenes, one in which a man and woman have sex (female breasts, buttocks), and one in which a woman reclines against a man in a bathtub (female breasts). There's also frequent profanity, including "f--k" and variations, as well as a scene in which a security guard in a department store speaks disparagingly of there being "fags everywhere." There are also scenes of excessive alcohol consumption, including one scene in which two men stumble down the street passing a bottle of booze back and forth while yelling and slurring their speech. In the next scene, one of these characters stumbles and lurches down the sidewalk, and is so drunk, he hallucinates seeing members of his family who live on the other side of the world. He is then mugged at gunpoint by two men who wait for him in the entryway of his apartment. 

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What's the story?

In MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON, Vladimir Ivanoff (Robin Williams) is a saxophonist in a Moscow circus, who contends with Soviet oppression, Russian winters, and long lines to purchase necessities such as toilet paper. When the circus travels to New York City as part of a US/Soviet cultural exchange program, he makes a spur-of-the-moment decision that will change his life forever: He defects to America while the troupe is visiting Bloomingdale's department store. Now, taken in by America, Vladimir begins to make sense of the freedoms and bounty he is now afforded, while working jobs ranging from limo driver to McDonald's cashier, among others. At first he stays with Lionel (Clevant Witherspoon), the security guard at Bloomingdale's who protected him from the KGB agents who wanted to take him back, and along with Lucia (Maria Conchita Alonso), a perfume cashier at Bloomingdale's, recent immigrant from Italy, and Vlad's love interest, they try and teach him a crash course on the American way of life. As he begins the long process of assimilating to his new country, Vlad begins to see the challenges and even the shortcomings of American culture and daily life, and must find a way to be an enthusiastic new American while also retaining the Russian heritage so integral to who he is. 

Is it any good?

While so many '80s movies with Cold War Soviet Union/USA rivalries are now as dated as parachute pants, this one remains surprisingly relevant. This is because Moscow on the Hudson focuses less on the Cold War and more on the immigrant experience in America. Nothing is sugarcoated about how immigrants of many different cultures adjust to their new lives, nor is it romanticized. What emerges is a three-dimensional portrait of immigrants to America, and at a time when so many immigrants are the targets of politicians engaged in hateful demagoguery, the immigrants in this movie are shown to be hardworking, ambitious, and eager to embrace America's cultural and political beliefs, even as they contend with missing those they left behind, and retaining their own cultural identities. 

Also, unlike so many Cold War-era movies, Moscow on the Hudson doesn't resort to the broad-brush generalizations of Good Guy America versus Bad Guy Soviet Union; a nuanced portrait of both countries emerges. Nor does it rely on the cliched humor of naive bumbling immigrants who consistently mangle common expressions for the sake of comedy. By portraying the characters as individuals who are part of different cultures rather than simplistic cultural archetypes, the end result is an empathetic comedy that goes way beyond what could have easily been a dated movie rife with stereotypes. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how immigrants to America are portrayed in Moscow on the Hudson. How do they show their work ethic, their struggles to learn English, to learn about concepts like freedom and democracy, their struggles to assimilate into the culture while retaining their own identity and background? 

  • While set against the backdrop of Cold War, how does this movie manage to remain relevant today? 

  • How did this movie portray American culture in the mid-1980s? Do you think the depiction was accurate? Why or why not? 

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