What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this popular comedy is also very deservedly R-rated. It has sex (both in comical fantasy scenes and reality), nudity, profanity, glorified substance abuse, and an especially jaundiced outlook: a teen embarks on the road to manhood by becoming a part-time pimp, and the message is that in modern America that's a wise move, financially and socially. Because the young hero is played by good-guy star Tom Cruise, and because his character escapes punishment in the end, young viewers might interpret this as an endorsement, not a subversive satire.
What's the story?
High-school senior Joel Goodson (Tom Cruise) is a fairly bright, fairly typical teen only-child in a wealthy Chicago suburb, preoccupied with sex, exam scores, and whether he can ever get accepted into an Ivy League university like Princeton. When his materialistic, controlling parents leave him in charge of the household during their vacation, Joel (partially but not entirely egged on by buddies) breaks one rule after another, like driving dad's treasured Porsche or letting schoolmates borrow an upstairs bedroom for their sex tryst. When Joel himself summons a young prostitute named Lana (Rebecca De Mornay) from the sleazy end of town for night of pleasure, he's drawn into the after-dark world of the sex business. With the assistance of wrong-side-of-the-tracks Lana, he discovers pimping could be the solution to a lot of his mushrooming woes about money and advantages.
Is it any good?
Though RISKY BUSINESS arrived with a busload of D-grade teen-sex comedies inspired by Porky's (and a young Tom Cruise had even starred in one of them, the little-remembered Losin' It), critics immediately recognized that this was a much smarter, sharper dark comedy about American values in the 1980s, not just a bunch of dirty jokes in the locker room. Joel (who also belongs to a school-age business group called Future Enterprises) is like the nice, well-bred kid next door who attains personal and professional rewards not through the traditional paperboy route, but through vice. The lesson at the end is that, yes, this is the way the game is played, even if the "respectable" adult world pretends otherwise.
The question for parents is whether kids watching this perverted Horatio Alger story will comprehend that it was meant to be a commentary on Reagan-era greed and upper-class criminality. In bygone days of Judeo-Christian censorship in Hollywood scripts, Joel would be severely punished just for thinking about doing what he does. None of that here, and discussion ought to follow about what is satire and what is an approving look at being cool via running a suburban whorehouse for school-agers.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about the character of Joel and the message beneath the movie's mordantly amusing comedy. What has Joel gained by the end? Has it made him a better person? Do you think Lana intending to trick him all along? What would you do in Joel's predicament? How does this sexy comedy compare to sex comedies today, like Superbad?