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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the raw moments include a sex-party scene exhibiting female and male nudity (erotic-daydream fantasies about a pretty girl wearing very little in a classroom are slightly less explicit). There's also gang-fighting (arranged like a duel, with all the kids turning out to watch at the appointed time), a mugging and beating with a tire iron, and reckless driving on a motorcycle (no helmets), plus one fatal shooting. There is much drinking/drunkenness and cigarette smoking as well, and heroin use and addiction is discussed (and disparaged). Swearing at R-level emphasizes the f-word, and the lead character speaks glowingly of the street-gang lifestyle, though other characters work to change his mind.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In a nameless city -- though faithful readers of the S.E. Hinton books can tell you it's the rough side of Tulsa, Oklahoma -- high-school delinquent Rusty James (Matt Dillon) comes from a once-upscale household that fell apart after their mother left. His lawyer-father (Dennis Hopper) is now a habitual drunkard, while his 21-year-old brother, dubbed Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke), is a street legend, credited with putting an end to gang wars before leaving town. Rusty James dreams of becoming as great as Motorcycle Boy, and in the meantime he keeps up his manly reputation with fights, sex, and classroom misbehavior. Then Motorcycle Boy returns, having gone on a life-changing trip to California to look up their mother. Aloof and quiet most of the time, speaking cryptically like some leather-jacket Buddha, MB tries to steer Rusty James away from the dead-end dysfunction that's engulfed their family and city.
Is it any good?
After a scrupulously faithful, even overcautious adaptation of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, director Francis Ford Coppola did this wildly stylized rendering of another Hinton property. Instead of playing it safe, the director shot RUMBLE FISH in black-and-white (with striking trick-photography color inserts) inventive camera angles, dynamic editing, sideways dialogue, and surreal staging. Sometimes the themes gets lost in all the hypnotic audio-visuals (some of which may be conveying Motorcycle Boy's color blindness and partial deafness), but the acting is strong. It says something that, while a lot of 1980s movies tried to be music-videos, no critics accused Rumble Fish of turning MTV, even though rock musician Stewart Copeland of The Police composed the soundtrack. Rather, this is a youth-gang violence saga transformed by Coppola into an "art film" (a very R-rated one) with all the positives and negatives that go along with filmmaker indulgence. Readers who already absorbed the messages via the book may be most forgiving of the riffs on Hinton's powerful narrative.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the messages in the film and the choices the characters make. Why did Motorcycle Boy come back from California to his dangerous, no-future hometown situation?
Do you know any Motorcycle Boy-types? Can you relate to the people and situations here or not? What other movies and books speak to this type of character?
Many teens have read the book. Ask what they think of director Coppola's offbeat approach to the story, and if they would like to see more serious-minded films like this that take wild chances with B&W photography and hallucinatory imagery.
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.