A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Permanent is a coming-of-age comedy that has some strong language ("s--t," "damn," etc.), as well as a few crude sexual descriptions and situations that are played for laughs. A married couple attempts to have sex (unsuccessfully), but there's no nudity or anything graphic. A bully gets away with obviously abusive behavior for a while -- though the film clearly values standing up to bullies -- and there's some awkward fighting, which is also played for laughs. Characters talk about marital problems, and someone tries to have an affair.
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What's the story?
In early-'80s Virginia, a smart girl and her parents arrive and try to find their way. Aurelie (Kira McLean) meets awful local girls and tries to be like them, pressuring her financially struggling parents (Patricia Arquette, Rainn Wilson) into letting her get a PERMANENT, which turns out to be a disaster. As Aurelie goes on a quest to gain the $60 to fix her hair while dealing with bullies, tenuous friendships, and fumblings with a boy, her neglected mother enters into a flirtation with a weird neighbor, and her insecure father must face one of his own fears in order to successfully change careers.
Is it any good?
This comedy has glints of gentle, recognizable humor, but the characters' various quests are too low-stakes to involve the viewer deeply. That may be the point of Permanent -- that life is made up of tiny battles that seem important at the time -- but the film's belabored style and overuse of music undermine that approach. Aurelie (played by McLean, who's a real find) is winningly precocious and determined in any given moment. But the film's split focus between her; her mom, Jeanne; her dad, Jim; and her friend Lydia (Nena Daniels) dilutes her story. That's without considering how little Aurelie actually does to earn the money she needs to undo her "horrible" hairdo or how other threads (such as a bullying girl and a boy she likes) take her attention. Jim's big issue is that he's so self-conscious about removing his fake hair that he might ditch his dream of becoming a doctor (seriously). That's not easy to get behind. Jeanne, meanwhile, is sexually frustrated and thinks of herself as an artist, but we see no expressions of her artistic ability -- other than a hint of dabbling at bad poetry -- so she comes across as needy rather than understanding. Everyone's flawed, which is good, but their little battles are less than captivating.
Permanent does have some laughs, often due to little details and attitudes that might lead you to believe that writer-director Colette Burson (co-creator of HBO's Hung) knows turn-of-the-'80s Virginia well. For instance, when Jim pooh-poohs finding a cheap family therapist by saying at that price, they'll end up with a serial killer, Jeanne dismisses that in turn: "Serial killers don't live around here." And the movie's secondary casting is strong. As a pregnant teacher, Abby Wathen gets laughs with her spot-on, low-key calm. And as odd neighbor/therapist Jerry, Michael Greene is delightfully godlike and dirty. The relationship between Aurelie and her dad is sweet. The bullies' characters aren't really explored, which is OK for this sort of film, but the friendship with Lydia (aka the Black Kid) feels dramatically forced. McLean, though, looks to have a nice career ahead of her. She has fine comic timing and feels authentic in a film that has too many ineffective cinematic touches. The score is intrusive, and while the camera angles and editing choices are reminiscent of Wes Anderson, without his trademark reserve, it all gets a bit tiresome.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Permanent portrays a family compared to what you usually see in movies and on TV. Is it unusual to see people who look ordinary/regular in the media?
What message does the movie send about bullying?
Which character's journey/quest resonated most with you, if any did?
Do the young characters feel relatable and realistic?
For kids who love coming-of-age stories
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