By Barbara Shulgasser-Parker,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Bleak teen-pregnancy tale has mature themes, cursing.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Life is tough. Luck plays a big role in how well one does.
Positive Role Models
Layla has won a scholarship to the University of Texas but she turns it down when she learns she is pregnant by the stoner she broke up with. Her grandmother is sympathetic and accepting. Her father isn't supportive.
Violence & Scariness
A girl delivers a dead fetus, which is not shown. She buries the cremated ashes later. Layla's 83-year-old grandmother is found lying on the ground and is taken to the hospital by ambulance. It's suggested that someone attacked her. She later dies.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A 17-year-old girl has sex on two occasions with two different teenage partners. Kissing is shown. A boy's back is seen as he moves to heavy breathing. No nudity is shown. She becomes pregnant.
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Products & Purchases
The cola "Coke" is mentioned and shown.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Teenage stoners inhale marijuana smoke from a bong. Teenagers drink from flask.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the 2015 feature Petting Zoo addresses teen pregnancy, including the limited options presented by parental consent laws in some states. A teen's carelessness, lack of adult supervision, and dilemma may all provoke discussions about teen sex, pregnancy, and the laws associated with those issues. A 17-year-old girl has sex on two occasions with two different teenage partners. No nudity, except for a man's back, is shown. A father refuses to allow his underage daughter to have an abortion, which forces her to turn down a college scholarship. Teens smoke marijuana and drink alcohol. Language includes "f--k" and "s--t." A girl delivers a dead fetus, which is not shown. She buries the cremated ashes later.
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What's the Story?
PETTING ZOO gives us Layla (Devon Keller), a blank-faced high school senior with enough promise, we're told, to win her a scholarship to the University of Texas but not enough guidance or supervision from parents to teach her about contraception or the folly of hanging out with a stoner boyfriend. She seems understandably stuck. Her father, with whom she has little to do, starts yelling when she asks him to sign parental consent for an abortion. She's been living with her stoner boyfriend, so it appears she was smart enough to escape her overbearing dad. But Layla rarely cracks a smile or speaks above a quiet monotone. Perhaps she's just been too beaten down to offer any resistance to his refusal. She makes no plan to go to a state that doesn't require his signature and, again, without any outward expression of emotion, she turns down the scholarship and takes a job as a waitress. Writer-director Micah Magee offers nothing in her portrayal of Layla to show the drive and intelligence that presumably won her that university scholarship. What does ring true is Layla's passive acceptance of all her bad breaks. In her world, family members don't help, people don't care, and no one steps in to save the day, so she doesn't expect it. With no family support and no role models for how to live, it seems understandable that luck would fly away just as surprisingly as it first arrived. The movie offers nothing to suggest that her future includes anything but babies and poverty. In fact, the slow, vague, ambivalent quality of the narrative gives a viewer a sense that violence and catastrophe are more likely to come her way than opportunity and success. Her father calls the pregnancy and desire for an abortion "so typical" of the way she lives. A boss calls her a quitter. It's clear that her life is filled with the judgment, negativity, and low expectations of others.
Is It Any Good?
Writer-director Magee's first movie, reportedly a version of her own early years, is shot in a leisurely, at times maddeningly slow, pace. A seemingly deliberate, documentary-like lack of focus dominates, as if the filmmaker has no idea what might happen next so she looks everywhere, in order to capture anything that might turn out to be important. The camera lingers on the moon in a night sky. Why? It spends an entire minute looking out the window of a train as treetops go by. Why? There are long moments looking through a wet windshield. Why? Long seconds are spent watching Layla lie down in a parked car, as if preparing for some terrible event that never arrives. Why? A close-up of some pages from the bible are seen for several seconds. Why? None of those images are given any special weight, so there is no meaning to be read into them.
The title is equally mysterious as there are no overt references to or metaphors about zoos, petting or otherwise. And Keller, as Layla, brings to the role a stillness reminiscent of Kristen Stewart, but the stillness could as easily be a sign of stupidity as of inner steel. Her emotionless face rarely betrays how she feels about any of this. Worse yet, Layla's world is a meaningless one. Grandmothers die for no reason. Fetuses die for no reason. In keeping with all that meaninglessness and randomness, the story has no real arc and one is left with a sense that when something good finally happens, luck has more to do with it than anything else. That may be a realistic observation, but it paints a pretty bleak picture.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how difficult it is for teenagers to face adult problems, like pregnancy and paying bills, without parental guidance or adult support of some kind. How does Layla do it in Petting Zoo?
Why do you think Layla's father refused to allow her to have an abortion? Do you think he should have had a discussion with her, or was it okay to simply say no?
The movie vaguely suggests that if Layla had had her baby, her life would be very different. In what ways can you imagine having a child would have had an impact on her life? Why do you think she turned down her scholarship when she learned she was pregnant?
- In theaters: January 24, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: May 19, 2016
- Cast: Devon Keller, Austin Chatillon-Reed, Deztiny Gonzales
- Director: Micah Magee
- Studio: Match Factory
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 93 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: March 31, 2022
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