Safelight

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Safelight Movie Poster Image
So-so indie drama has mature themes, cursing.
  • R
  • 2015
  • 84 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Art and creativity provide a sense of self-worth and self-esteem. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters too archetypal/stereotypical to be considered positive role models. 

Violence

Pimp physically and verbally abuses prostitute in front of a gas station. Teens bully a disabled teen -- punching, shoving, and verbally taunting him. Baseball bats are pulled and threatened to be used on a pimp and two underage teens who try to buy cigarettes at a truck stop. A teen girl who works as a prostitute implies that she was sexually abused by her stepfather. Gun violence, character killed. Antagonist pulls shotgun on two truck stop employees while outside acting as if he's under the influence of drugs. 

Sex

The female lead plays a teen prostitute working in front of a truck stop. She's shown getting into trucks, no sex or nudity shown. During a scene in a hotel room, she starts to get on her knees and undo a man's pants in an attempt at oral sex, but then stops when she realizes what she's doing. Antagonist pulls down his pants and "moons" two truck stop workers. Women at a bar talk about sex. 

Language

Frequent profanity, including regular use of "f--k" and variations. "S--t," "p---sy," "asses," "retard." 

Consumerism

Budweiser, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Coca-Cola cans or bottles prominently shown. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Beer drinking. Cigarette smoking. Reference made to acid. The lead antagonist, a pimp, often acts stoned or drunk, speaking in an incoherent manner, stumbling around, yelling "yahoo!" for no discernible reason, pulling a shotgun at a truck stop, mooning the employees of a truck stop. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Safelight is a 2015 indie-drama in which a disabled teen boy finds self-worth and escape through photography when he meets a teen prostitute who encourages him. Prostitution, sexual abuse, bullying, teen runaways, abandonment from a parent, sibling death, and parent death comprise much of the subject matter of this movie. A pimp is physically and verbally abusive to a prostitute outside a truck stop; this pimp often acts stoned or drunk even though he's only shown drinking beer. Frequent profanity, including regular use of "f--k." Bullies call the disabled teen "retarded." Cigarette smoking. During a scene in a hotel room, a prostitute starts to get on her knees and undo a man's pants in an attempt at oral sex, but then stops.

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What's the story?

In SAFELIGHT, Charles (Evan Peters) is a 17-year-old boy with a physical disability that makes walking difficult and also makes him the target of bullies. One night while working behind the counter of a truck stop he sees a pimp named Skid (Kevin Alejandro) physically and verbally threaten a teen prostitute named Vickie (Juno Temple); Charles stops it by walking out with a raised baseball bat and threatens to use it on Skid. In school, Charlie is trying to pursue a growing passion for photography and enters into a photography contest. But Charlie lacks confidence, and besides contending with bullies who think he takes pictures just so he can spy on their girlfriends, Charlie's father is dying and it seems the only other person who really loves him is his boss, the sassy and cynical owner of the truck stop (Christine Lahti). But when he overcomes his shyness and befriends Vickie, she encourages him to pursue his photography project -- a collection of pictures of the lighthouses of California, a dream Charles shared with his late brother. She even offers to go with him, seeing it as a chance to get away from Skid's violent instability. As Vickie encourages Charles with his photography, Charles encourages Vickie to make amends with her family, even though they blamed her when her mother's stepdad raped her.  As Charlie must learn to believe in himself, Vickie must find a way to escape Skid, put an end to her life as a prostitute, and find a way to convince her family that she was not at fault. 

Is it any good?

While there's an undeniable earnestness and appeal to this film, there are also some problems. For starters, the story in Safelight itself is an indie staple that has been done to death: The damaged and apprehensive male who is shown how to live life to the fullest by a free-spirited female who knows the ropes. We see desperation, heartache, and yearning for escape in small-town America. Everything slows down to give the actors and the story room to breathe; everything but the obligatory Zach Braff-esque indie-rock soundtrack to heighten the moments of connection. 

And then the stock characters. The sassy truck stop cashier who can put a flirty trucker in his place with a playfully caustic one-liner that also masks the hurt of multiple heartbreaks and divorce. The rural white pimp who walks around shirtless and tatted, screaming "yahoo!" like a maniac for no discernible reason, abusive one moment then affectionate the next. The proverbial "hooker with the heart of gold." Put all this into a mix in which "the 1970s" is only conveyed by characters saying the decade aloud and a gas pump that reads "leaded," subplots that meander before fizzling out, and an amateurish production overall, and you have a well-intentioned but mediocre movie.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about some of the issues addressed in Safelight. How were topics such as prostitution, sexual abuse, bullying, death, and abandonment addressed? 

  • How is this movie similar to and different from other independent dramas?

  • This movie is set in the 1970s. Did that come through, and if so, how? If not, what could they have done to make it feel more rooted in that time?

Movie details

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