Our Song

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Our Song Movie Poster Image
Honest, positive look at urban teens; mature themes.
  • R
  • 2001
  • 95 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

This film stresses the importance of close family relationships, friendship, and open communication. Emphasizes trust, thoughtful decision-making, and positive support from others as methods of coping with the many challenges of coming of age generally, and, specifically, in a community where resources are in short supply.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Three teen girls (African-American, Latina, and one of mixed race) on the brink of maturity are called upon to respond to the pressures and stresses of urban life. Each girl and each involved parent has a unique way of coping, with varying degrees of success. The film looks honestly, perceptively, and without judgment at positive and negative behaviors thus letting the viewer come to his or her own conclusions. There are no consequences when the girls shoplift in one scene.

Violence

A young woman on the fringe of the story commits suicide off-camera.

Sex

Other than a few kisses, no on-camera sexuality. There are, however, frank discussions about single teen parenting, abortion, sexually-transmitted diseases, and birth control. A prominent story line involves one girl's unexpected pregnancy.

Language

Lots of cursing and use of obscenities: "f--k" in various forms, "s--t," "ass." One girl wears a T-shirt which reads "S--t Happens."  Some additional playful swearing in Spanish, much of which is not translated.

Consumerism

Tommy Hilfiger and Tommy Girl; Essence Magazine, Jet Magazine, Levis.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A party shows underage kids drinking beer and smoking marijuana. One of the girls' fathers is in prison for dealing drugs.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Our Song is the honest, insightful, and positive coming-of-age story of three high school girls. While almost all of the characters are African-American, Latino, or of mixed race, their stories and feelings are typical of kids of all ethnicities. The film considers boy-girl relationships, pregnancy, abortion, and birth control, as well as the broader issues of family, self-respect, and growing up. Underage teens at a party consume marijuana and alcohol, but there is no resulting drunkenness or negative behavior shown. Swearing is frequent: "f--k," "s--t," "ass." It's a thought-provoking film, without much plotting, focused more on character than event.

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What's the story?

OUR SONG unfolds over one summer in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Lanisha (Kerry Washington, in her first film role), Maria (Melissa Martinez), and Joycelyn (Anne Simpson) are great friends and hard-working members of the Jackie Robinson Steppers Marching Band (an actual band). Finding out that their high school is being shut down because of asbestos contamination is the first of several events that shake up the trio's fragile world. Over the course of those short months the girls must contend with a friend's suicide, a pregnancy, exacting parental expectations, and an unwelcome change to their friendship's status quo. Each one deals uniquely with the challenges that come her way, relying upon parents, friends and, most significantly, each other to resolve the issues and to make the hard transitions that are so much a part of every teen's life.

Is it any good?

Director-writer Jim McKay has succeeded in creating a sensitive, moving, documentary-like portrait of three unforgettable teens and, to a lesser extent, their families. There's a natural feel to every scene, to every performance, and to every line of dialogue. The three leads are first-time young actresses who seem real -- Kerry Washington is particularly affecting -- acting out stories with problems that are real.

McKay uses lots of close-ups and he lets his scenes play out fully in order to bring the audience deep into the lives of his characters. No easy answers in Our Song. No quick resolutions. Instead of a busy plot, McKay is more interested in knowing how his young people feel, think, and react as they struggle to make sense of growing up.   

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the story's structure and substance. Would you say that the movie resolved or had clear endings for each of the three leading characters? How do you feel about movies that leave some questions unanswered? Try to imagine what would happen to Lanisha, Maria, and Joycelyn over the next years.

  • What techniques are used to make the characters of Lanisha, Maria, and Joycelyn seem real? Does the language seem true-to-life? Do the problems the girls faced feel authentic?

  • Think about the families. What did they have in common? How were they different? Did getting to know their parents give you insight into how each of the girls would deal with their problems?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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