Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
Permanent Movie Poster Image
Mild language, absurd violence in coming-of-age comedy.
  • PG-13
  • 2017
  • 93 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

The movie values actions like a couple working to stay together and a girl standing up to a bully. But the idea that the main character's "bad hair' isn't so important after all is not fully realized. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Aurelie eventually shows some courage. While her friendship with perhaps the only black student at her school may be utilitarian at first, she actually behaves in her best interests later on. Other characters face their various crises and rise above them somehow. Other characters treat the black girl as if she's mentally deficient (she's not), but she ultimately wins acclaim for her individual statement.


Awkward karate for comic effect. A bully strikes a classmate in two situations. Fistfight at the end. 


No nudity, but some sexual descriptions by a kid and a painfully unsuccessful attempt at sex between a married couple. A much older man admires a middle-aged woman's breasts. 


Several uses of "damn" and "s--t" (and its variations), plus "jackass," "butt lick."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bydede2000 October 8, 2018

The worst movie I've seen all year.

You'd think a coming of age movie about a middle schooler would be appropriate for middle schoolers, but it's not. This movie had teachers and school... Continue reading
Adult Written byOmikins5 May 13, 2020

Adolescent/ young adult themes

There are many references and sex jokes in this film. The main girl’s name sounds like “orally” and is harassed by a boy sexually.
This movie features everythi... Continue reading

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

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?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age stories

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