A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that National Anthem Girl tells the story of 30-something Janine Stange, who in 2014 fulfilled a two-year, self-funded ambition to sing the national anthem in all 50 states, culminating in a celebration of the song's 200th anniversary. Stange embarked on this project when her career as a singer failed to take off, so although the movie superficially praises patriotism and sacrifice by our armed forces, the focus is on Stange, driven to complete a task designed at least in part to capitalize on the accompanying public exposure. Stange shouldn't be confused with 9-year-old Madison Baez, known in some news stories as "Anthem Girl," and who has sung before a crowd of 50,000 at a Dodgers game. The death of several members of the military are cited, as are Gold Star families.
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What's the story?
With Janine Stange as narrator of her own story, NATIONAL ANTHEM GIRL follows the New York native on a journey that begins with her childhood dream of pursuing a singing career. Eventually, finding the goal of music stardom eluding her, and reportedly inspired by her patriotic mother, she specializes in delivering a rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Rethinking her options, she creates a marketing plan to relaunch her music career and simultaneously "give back," including a spur-of-the-moment quest to sing the anthem in all 50 states. Along the way, she secures the domain name "nationalanthemgirl.org" and sets as her completion deadline September 14, 2014, having accidentally discovered the date of the song's 200th anniversary. The tour takes her to a high school donkey basketball tournament, triple-A baseball games, NASCAR events, car show tents, and an Idaho mining town that calls itself "The Center of the Universe." As the quest gains notoriety, reporters ask what motivates her; in response, she applauds patriotism and service, especially as demonstrated by the American military. "I did it for heroes who sacrifice everything for our country." Through most of the movie only a phrase or two of the anthem is heard, but the film ends with a roomful of voices joining Stange's for one full, rousing verse.
Is it any good?
While moments of National Anthem Girl are uplifting, the movie ultimately disappoints. A subject that could've been moving and worthwhile instead feels like a 76-minute highlights reel of a wannabe singer crassly using patriotism as an excuse for self-advertisement. One is left waiting for Stange to say something of substance indicating a deeper understanding of the sacrifice she supposedly appreciates. When interviewers ask why she embarked on her crusade, she replies with clichés. 1."There's gotta be respect." 2. "This is an awesome song." 3. "Because I absolutely love America and I love what the national anthem represents. It's not just a song. It's our song." In Kansas City, she cites 9/11, recalling that she did not go into Manhattan that day in 2001 and that's why she is able to be there in Kansas City, years later, to sing. "The national anthem causes you to think about those things," she adds.
But thinking is something this movie sorely lacks. Eleven headshots in a row of the lovely Stange -- coy, determined, pert, seductive -- are paraded across the screen to tell us, what exactly? She and director Jefferson Moore could have used that screen time to visit wounded veterans in each of the 50 states, or to promote the many vital and caring organizations that assist veterans. (She does support Operation Gratitude, which sends care packages accompanied by handwritten notes from ordinary citizens to deployed troops.) Stange is at times charming and attractive, and seems generally sincere, but when she lists the difficulties of her travel arrangements and the blow this project dealt her bank account, the obliviousness feels tone-deaf in contrast to the obstacles that the soldiers she supposedly admires face every day as they protect our country.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what patriotism means. What are some of the many ways Americans can serve their country to demonstrate patriotism? Where did you see patriotism in National Anthem Girl?
What are some qualities about American culture and history that make it admirable? What are some things about the United States that you would like to make better?
What do the words of "The Star-Spangled Banner" mean to you? In what ways could the movie have done a better job in educating us about the song's meaning?
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