A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie has very strong material for a PG-13; it's more like a PG-16. There are frequent sexual references and situations (non-explicit), as Charles has relationships with many, many women, even after he's married. One of the women becomes pregnant. Characters drink, smoke (constantly) and take drugs, including marijuana and heroin. A character OD's (off-camera), and there is a harrowing scene of detoxing after Charles decides to end his 20-year heroin habit. Characters use very strong language. A child is killed and another loses his sight. A strength of the movie is its frank coverage of the pre-Civil Rights era, where the "Chitlin' Circuit" was the (almost) all-black venues where black performers were booked. In one understated scene, it makes clear that no restaurants would allow black customers, so they had to make arrangements at the homes of black people along the way. In another scene, Charles refuses to perform in a facility that does not allow black customers and is sued by the promoter and banned from the state of Georgia as a result.
What's the story?
Jamie Foxx portrays brilliant musician Ray Charles in this biopic, which follows Charles' story beginning with his impoverished childhood in the South. Traumatized by the accidental death of his little brother, young Ray goes blind but finds the strength to deal with his condition from his strong-willed mother. As a hardworking musician touring the South, Charles endures Jim Crow laws and prejudice. He eventually strikes out on his own, shocking the music industry by mixing soul and gospel and by delving into new territory with a country and western album. He marries and starts a family, but as his star begins to rise, he has affairs and gets deep into heroin. At rock bottom, Charles once again finds strength in his mother's words and makes a gallant comeback.
Is it any good?
Jamie Foxx creates such a real and vivid person that we almost forget that he is re-enacting someone else's life. The movie's two greatest strengths are Foxx's incendiary and fully-inhabited performance and Charles' peerless music. There are also outstanding supporting performances, including Kerry Washington as Charles' wife Della Bea, Regina King as back-up singer (and mistress) Margie, and Curtis Armstrong as Atlantic records executive Ahmet Ertegun.
But RAY focuses too much on Charles' personal life, and not enough of the process, inspiration, collaboration, or the passion that made the music. It also tries to cover too long a time span, and has too many undeveloped peripheral characters. It over-simplifies the influences and developments in Charles' life and music with too-frequent revelatory flashbacks that tie his reactions and each of his songs to particular revelations and turning points. But there are many moments of great power as Charles says he must be paid in singles so he cannot be cheated and insists on owning his own music instead of letting the studio control it. He breaks through musical barriers that separate R&B from country and societal barriers that allow a black man to perform in segregated venues. And every time he plays and sings, it is pure magic.
Talk to your kids about ...
- In theaters: October 29, 2004
- On DVD or streaming: February 1, 2005
- Cast: Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Regina King
- Director: Taylor Hackford
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 152 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: depiction of drug addiction, sexuality and some thematic elements
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award
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