Noises Off

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgas..., Common Sense Media
Noises Off Movie Poster Image
Sexual innuendo in farce about actors putting on a play.
  • PG-13
  • 1992
  • 101 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Things that might eventually turn out to look perfect in the end probably had messy beginnings and middles.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The director, Lloyd, is seeing two women in the production at once. An actor who is already seeing one member of the cast stays late in the room of another actress in the cast.  

Violence

By definition, farcical violence is designed to be laughed at. An actor falls downstairs. A man slips. Actors sabotage each other. A woman is mistakenly punched in the eye. A man's nose bleeds easily and often. Actors shove each other. One bites another on the leg. A woman is kicked in the knee by a supposed romantic rival. A woman is seen comically strangling her ex-lover.
 

Sex

Backstage romances abound. As couples switch allegiances, jealousies are played out on stage and off. The play-within-the-play features two couples arriving at a cottage, thinking it empty, to have sex. A character spends most of the movie wearing only a lacy bra, underpants, and stockings. A man is having an affair with two women at once and gets one pregnant. Men drop their pants for non-sexual reasons. In several scenes couples seeming to be in sexual positions are actually doing something else (in one case, cactus needles are being removed from a man's behind by another man and, in another, cast members are crouching as they search for a lost contact lens). Word play abounds: someone wants to "go into a few things," or is "poking around." As the play is in progress on stage, a voice can be heard from backstage yelling, "I'm pregnant."
 

Language

"F--k."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A bottle of whisky is passed around as cast members try to keep it from an alcoholic actor. As disasters mount on stage, the actors drink from the bottle.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Noises Off is a 1992 comedy based on the successful Broadway play-within-a-play of the same name by Peter Frayn. A director guides his cast through a door-slamming farce on its way to Broadway via a series of disastrous out-of-town performances. Like most farces, it relies on sexual innuendo, mistaken assumptions, misplaced props, physical shtick, simultaneous entrances and exits, and carefully-managed mayhem. Two couples both arrive at a cottage expecting to be alone so they can have sex. This results in one woman performing most of the play in her lacy white bra and underpants. Profanity is rare and includes "f—k." The cast tries to hide whisky from an alcoholic actor. The rest of the cast drinks from the bottle. A man is having an affair with two women at once and gets one pregnant.

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What's the story?

In NOISES OFF, a beleaguered director (Michael Caine) is tearing his hair out as he helps shape a Broadway-bound door-slamming farce and does his best to manage his cast, their personal problems, and his own sticky romantic life. Disaster looms at the chaotic dress rehearsal and makes itself evident through a series of calamitous out-of-town performances. While the actors become more adept at remembering their lines, handling props, and negotiating many exits and entrances, romances -- some real and some imagined -- incite jealousies, tears, fights, nosebleeds, and vengeful sabotage, some backstage and some in front of audiences. The movie tries to mimic the play's construction, first showing the bumbling action on stage just as a theater audience would see it. The next view reveals the dramas and emergencies backstage. It culminates with total chaos all around. Former lovers grumble at each other, actors play hide-the-bottle from an alcoholic in the cast, people seem to be caught in compromising positions that are actually innocent. Catastrophe mounts upon catastrophe until the entire cast and understudies find themselves on stage, trying to create a plot that would explain all the unscripted mistakes and disasters that left them in front of an audience not knowing what to do next.

Is it any good?

It's a long wait for this film to come up with the comic goods, as it takes about an hour of repetitive set-up for the rewarding big laughs to explode satisfyingly in the movie's final half hour. The acting in Noises Off  is broad, as farce calls for, and that may try the patience of some viewers in the early scenes. But director Peter Bogdonavich, with the aid of a cast of veteran performers, including Carol Burnett, John Ritter, Julie Haggerty, and Christopher Reeve, meticulously lays down the foundation for a funny final third when the actors are backstage at each other's throats and, later, on stage desperately trying to mop up the theatrical mess their petty jealousies have created.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what farce is. The genre dates back to ancient Greek comedy, setting over-the-top characters in absurd and unlikely situations that challenge and thwart them. Can you think of other comedies besides Noises Off that might fall into that category?

  • How does the screenwriter convey that every character in the movie is as flawed as the next? What are some of the tics and habits he gives the characters to let us know that we are supposed to laugh at them?

  • If you could remake the movie, who would you cast in the various roles?

Movie details

For kids who love to laugh

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