Pearl Jam Twenty

Movie review by
Kari Croop, Common Sense Media
Pearl Jam Twenty Movie Poster Image
Music comes first in commemorative grunge-rock docu.
  • NR
  • 2011
  • 146 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Big themes include the pressures of fame and the commercialization of art, but it's discussed by the artist and others in a thoughtful, serious way. The overall message is that the band members stayed true to their art, no matter what direction the "market" was taking them, in such a way that their decisions still resulted in widespread success and respect.

Positive Role Models & Representations

While there's a little bit of "bad boy" rock star behavior shown in archival footage (tearing down curtains, etc.), for the most part, the band members appear to have avoided heavy partying, particularly before their nightly shows, and genuinely respect each other to this day. Drinking and drug use is mentioned but isn't glorified.

Violence

Discussion of Kurt Cobain's suicide and an incident in which fans were injured and killed at a concert.

Sex
Language

On the DVD version, audible words include "f--k" and "s--t"; in the PBS broadcast version cursing was edited out to keep bleeping to a minimum.

Consumerism

Aside from promoting the band itself, the film briefly mentions brands like Perry Ellis and Ticketmaster.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

References to rehab and discussion of drug use, but in the context of negative consequences with a cautionary tone. Some social drinking on camera, with one shot of a band member smoking marijuana.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the DVD version of the film includes audible swearing ("f--k" and "s--t"), but cursing was edited out to keep bleeping to a minimum for the PBS broadcast version. There's also some discussion of drug use, but usually in the context of negative consequences (overdoses, etc.), along with scant shots of social drinking and, in one brief case, a band member smoking marijuana. Interviews include mentions of fellow rocker Kurt Cobain's suicide and the death of several fans at a Pearl Jam concert.

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What's the story?

Blending one-on-one interviews, extensive live concert footage, and rare behind-the-scenes clips, Oscar-winning director Cameron Crowe crafts a definitive portrait of Pearl Jam, one of the most influential bands to emerge from the alternative rock "grunge" movement of the 1990s. But PEARL JAM TWENTY also commemorates the band's two decades together by exploring the group's habitual refusal to compromise their art and values amid mainstream commerical success.

Is it any good?

There's no doubt avid Pearl Jam fans will love Crowe's well-crafted portrait of their favorite band. But even the casual music buff will find Pearl Jam Twenty worthwhile, thanks to the film's thoughtful handling of serious topics like the corporate influence on artistic expression and an artist's level of control over his or her own fame. Even if you show up with little to no knowledge of Pearl Jam prior, you'll walk away with real appreciation for the band's story, music, and career.

Crowe's former life as a Rolling Stone journalist who covered the band's early rise on the Seattle grunge scene no doubt propelled the final product beyond a basic rock doc, granting him the familiar access of a good friend who just so happens to be a great filmmaker. But his obvious admiration for his subjects doesn't keep him from telling their story as it should be told; it merely serves to enhance the passion with which he tells it.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the central theme of the commercialization of art. How much control or input do artists have into what happens to their art? How does fame play into the process?

  • What are the negative effects of fame, particularly when it comes on suddenly as opposed to gradually? What role does our society play in the culture of fame and celebrity/rock-star worship? Are fans solely to blame, or are they merely influenced by media and marketing?

  • How do the members of Pearl Jam measure up as role models? How have they changed over the course of 20 years together as a band, particularly as they've come into adulthood?

Movie details

For kids who love music stories

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