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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Searching is a mystery starring John Cho about a missing teen that's presented entirely through/on computer screens (similar to the horror movie Unfriended). It's cleverly constructed and emotionally satisfying, as well as diverse and culturally relevant. Expect brief on-screen fighting, arguing, and yelling, as well as offscreen and verbal references to violence. A main character dies of cancer. There's a bit of sex-related dialogue and some sexual references, and there's a brief, wrongful theory that an uncle is having some kind of sexual relationship with his teen niece. Language includes one "f---ing" and uses of "perv." A secondary character appears to be a drug dealer, supplying pot (offscreen) to a teen girl. A jar filled with pot is shown, and teen drug use is inferred. Many tech brand names are shown throughout (Google, Facebook, YouTube, etc.), but all in service to the story. Underlying everything are messages of perseverance and the need for stronger communication among family members, as well as the notion of the internet as both a useful and a dangerous place.
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What's the story?
In SEARCHING, David Kim (John Cho) has a happy family. He enjoys watching his daughter Margot grow up, posting pictures and videos of her to social media. As Margot hits her teenage years (played by Michelle La), David finds himself raising her alone, and she seems increasingly distant. Finally one day she simply disappears after a supposed study group, and David hits the internet to try to find clues about where she might have gone. Her friends don't seem to know much, but he discovers that she's also been skipping her piano lessons and pocketing the money. A detective (Debra Messing) comes on the case, and time seems to be running out. Can David spot the final clue that will piece everything together?
Is it any good?
Perhaps inspired by the success of 2014's Unfriended, this mystery ventures in fresh, new directions while being superbly constructed, emotionally satisfying, and culturally relevant. The debut feature of director Aneesh Chaganty, who also wrote the screenplay with producer Sev Ohanian, Searching is notable for focusing on a Korean American family without making an issue of it. It frankly doesn't matter what culture the Kim family comes from (other than in the valuable representation sense, of course). What matters is what would matter to any human being when a family member is in trouble.
In the lead role, Cho does amazing things, performing largely by himself and within unconventional cameras and camera setups, reaching new emotional depths. The movie's filming techniques do recall some of the more effective things used in Unfriended and Unfriended: Dark Web, but Searching expands the genre's toolbox, going further in both time and space. And the screenplay, while suffering a few small, easily forgivable shaky spots, is a thing of beauty, furthering the story with desperate, constant propulsion, and dropping little clues in the most innocuous places. When it all comes together, it's with a most pleasurable snap.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Searching's depiction of violence. How much is shown, and how much is kept offscreen? Are these incidents equally effective? Why or why not?
Margot's act of generosity turns out badly, but how does the movie view her act? Is she still admirable? Should generosity be viewed as risky?
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