A lot or a little?
Parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie about a real life rapper whose life was full of drugs, sex, and ultimately lethal violence. Because the movie is well made and exciting, kids might feel it glamorizes his way of life. The gritty-but-moving biopic takes an unflinching look at the life and death of rapper Notorious B.I.G. Raised on the hard-scrabble streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the groundbreaking musician carried guns, dealt drugs, went to prison, fell in love, cheated on his wife (and his girlfriend) ... and was gunned down at the age of 24. All of these events and more unfold onscreen -- accompanied by strong profanity, drinking, nudity, violence, and drug use -- making for a movie that's not only too intense for early teens and younger but one that demands discussion with older teens.
What's the story?
Long before he found fame as a rapper, Christopher Wallace -- aka Biggie Smalls/Notorious B.I.G. (Jamal Woolard) -- was a Brooklyn boy with a talent for rhythm and rhyme, scribbling poetic lyrics furiously on the steps of his building. Despite his mother Voletta's (Angela Bassett) watchful eye and protective embrace, the call of the streets proves too loud, and soon he's trading crack at the corner. Later, he ends up doing time for his crimes, but music is a bigger lure, and Biggie knows it's his path to salvation and survival. But there are plenty of detours and obstacles ahead of him.
Is it any good?
Rapper, son, father, lover, and poet, Biggie was a complicated man; NOTORIOUS does its best to render him fully, and it almost succeeds. There are lots of fascinating details (for instance, that young Christopher changed clothes on the roof of his building so that Voletta wouldn't wonder where he was getting the money to buy expensive name brands) and tons of drama (the implosion of Biggie's friendship with Tupac; the love triangle with Lil' Kim and Faith Evans).
Credit is due to the casting director who wisely picked Woolard, a rapper-actor who steps into Biggie's shoes and wears them more than comfortably. His Biggie is finely tuned, and he commands the mic in nearly the same way the rapper once did. The rest of the cast -- Derek Luke as Puffy, Anthony Mackie as Tupac -- also excels. Still, with so much ground to cover, Notorious glosses over moments -- how Biggie put his groundbreaking rhymes together and decided what stayed and went, for one -- on which it should linger. And with so much time spent on his troubles, the reconciliations and triumphs -- his impact on the music scene, for instance -- feel rushed. Nonetheless, Notorious rightly lets Biggie's music take center stage. Every time it comes on, we're reminded of Biggie's notoriety, charm, and genius.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what appeals to teens about Biggie. Do they feel the film glamorizes him?
Do your teens think the movie is an accurate portrayal? Sympathetic? Critical?
How do your teens feel about Biggie's lyrics? And what messages do they take away from both his music and his life? Can they tell what the biases of the film makers are?
The film portrays Notorious B.I.G. and the world of hip-hop/rap. How does that industry, in turn, influence people who listen to the music it produces? Why do you think they've been so popular with both listeners and critics?
How accurate do you think the movie is? Why might filmmakers add or alter the truth in movies based on true stories?
- In theaters: January 16, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: April 21, 2009
- Cast: Angela Bassett, Derek Luke, Jamal Woolard
- Director: George Tillman Jr.
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: pervasive language, some strong sexuality including dialogue, nudity, and for drug content.
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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.