A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that My Friend Dahmer is a drama based on a graphic novel about the author's real-life experiences in high school with future serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Although Dahmer is played by Disney star Ross Lynch, it's not appropriate for young fans of his show Austin & Ally. Several dead animals are seen -- some "roadkill" and some deliberately sliced open. A gun is shown, and a man slices his hand with a knife and sucks the blood. The main character struggles with his sexual identity; when he removes his clothes during a doctor's visit, there's some awkwardness. He also masturbates with his back to the camera. A magazine photo of a topless woman is seen, and there's brief but strong sexual innuendo. Words like "f--k," "s--t," and "f----t" are used a few times, and teens smoke pot and drink alcohol to excess. Adults smoke cigarettes. Dahmer isn't presented as admirable in any way, and the film is intelligent and balanced and appears to be searching for understanding.
What's the story?
In MY FRIEND DAHMER, Jeffrey Dahmer (Ross Lynch) isn't yet an infamous serial killer. It's 1978, and he's a lonely, outcast high school senior who's interested in finding roadkill carcasses and dissolving them in jars of acid. After meeting his mother's interior designer, who has cerebral palsy, Dahmer starts performing "spaz attacks" at school, which endears him to cartoonist Derf (Alex Wolff). Derf enjoys pushing Dahmer into more "performances" but also seems to like him. Meanwhile, Dahmer's parents are divorcing, his emotionally unstable mother (Anne Heche) doesn't seem to care about him, and he becomes attracted to a male doctor (Vincent Kartheiser) whose indifference awakens violent tendencies. Dahmer starts drinking regularly and his behavior grows increasingly erratic -- for example, he invites a girl to prom but leaves her there to go eat fast food -- all of which leads up to his first homicidal impulse.
Is it any good?
Written and directed by Marc Meyers, this biographical drama walks a fine line between ridicule and morbidity but maintains a humane balance, exploring a disturbed character in an empathetic way. In My Friend Dahmer, Lynch (best known for his Disney Channel show Austin & Ally) hides behind a mop of hair and huge, clunky glasses, walking stiffly and clenched, as if afraid of the very air itself. He gives a strong performance, finding the hurt, fear, frustration, and power that drives Dahmer to his ultimate fate.
The film's 1970s production design is incredibly effective, tapping into the era's uneasy meeting of establishment (Neil Sedaka) and rebellion (the Ramones). Adapted from a graphic novel written by the real-life Derf, the movie doesn't really capitalize on the "my friend" portion of the story. The focus is on Dahmer, and the character of Derf nicely avoids becoming a typical passive, observing "writer" character; he's more of a catalyst. Meyers also avoids cutesy attempts to tie the movie into its graphic-novel origins; there are no weird effects or comic panels. It's an unusual movie, but every effort goes into finding a legitimate center.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about My Friend Dahmer's use of violence. For a movie about a serial killer, how much violence is actually shown? How much is threatened or used to establish a mood? What's the impact of media violence on kids?
Based on this movie, do you think Dahmer could have sought or received help before he turned down his dark path? If so, how? And when?
How does Dahmer come to terms with his sexual orientation? Is the world he lives in accepting of him?
Why do you think we're drawn to stories about serial killers? What's the appeal?
- In theaters: November 3, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: April 10, 2018
- Cast: Ross Lynch, Alex Wolff, Anne Heche
- Director: Marc Meyers
- Studio: FilmRise
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 107 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: disturbing images, language, teen drug use, drinking and sexual content, and for brief nudity
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.