A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that there is considerable violence and killing here. Splattery gore happens both in video clips from famous horror movies (which are praised as entertainment, over more wholesome movies like Annie) and in the "real" narrative. There are depictions of sex and male masturbation and brief glimpses of topless/pornographic magazines. A Catholic mass is ridiculed. The swearing gets really vile in places, and, like the violence, it's meant as a contrast to the tame-looking situation-comedy milieu.
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What's the story?
A candy-colored satire on tabloid-y true-crime movies, serial killers, and suburban values, SERIAL MOM takes place, as do many of the comedies of naughty-naughty filmmaker John Waters, in suburban Baltimore. Beverly Sutphin (Kathleen Turner) is a proper, well-mannered, ultra-capable and adoring, churchgoing mom to her dentist husband and their two kids. But she is also a murderous psychotic, who torments/tortures/brutally kills anyone (outside the immediate family) who annoys her. A neighbor who steals a parking space from Beverly receives guttural, obscene phone-call harassment. Another woman who returns rented videotapes unrewound gets bashed fatally with a frozen leg of lamb (a Hitchcock in-joke). Eventually, family and police notice the increasingly public crimes, and Baltimore is thrilled to finally have its own serial killer. Even the victims' grieving relatives confer with the Sutphins about true-crime book/TV/movie deals, as Beverly's trial goes forward.
Is it any good?
The social spoofing is broad and unsubtle in this darkly humorous film. For example, when a Catholic sermon turns into a pro-death penalty speech, the priest cheerfully asserts Jesus never made policy statements against execution -- not even during His own. But the performers seem to be having a great time, and the Squaresville-sitcom vibe (inspired by the likes of Leave It to Beaver takes the edge off the bloodletting, sex, and swearing. Serial Mom doesn't make you feel contaminated for watching it, like Natural Born Killers does, even though the two movies share much in common in criticizing a sicko-crazed media mindset.
Parents should use extreme caution -- especially since John Waters, for his part, does enjoy gore imagery and bad-taste stuff for its own sake, and he gives favorite horror flicks prominent onscreen plugs.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the fascination with serial killers. How can a law-and-order society like the United States simultaneously make folk heroes out of mass murderers it condemns? Is the media to blame? Is Waters' sitcom-funny take on this pathology part of the problem or part of the solution? Parents can ask kids what they think of serial-killer trading cards, comics, or Web sites.