Shirkers

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Shirkers Movie Poster Image
Gently paced docu-mystery has some cursing, mature themes.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 96 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Sometimes in spite of best efforts, things don't work out the way you hoped. When that happens, try not to wallow in disappointment. If you take your time working through what happened you should eventually be able to move forward again.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Sandi, Jasmine, and Sophia are great role models for throwing themselves completely into a project they really believed in, giving it everything they had, and doing whatever it took to make it happen. But Sandi's pride and ego sometimes blinded her to some dangers and pitfalls, especially to the impact some of her decisions and attitudes had on her friends. Georges is a very mysterious person, and no one's sure about anything when it comes to him.

Violence

Clips from classic movies show some disturbing images and violence very briefly and in rapid succession. The story of the original Shirkers was about a 16-year-old girl on a killing spree. The plot is talked about without gore or violence, and no violent footage from that movie is shown. Several people relate stories Georges told, one about watching his brother bleed to death, and another about being on the scene when the actress Jayne Mansfield died in an auto accident, mentioning her decapitated head.

Sex

On a road trip alone together, Georges once asked Sandi to touch his stomach; she ignored the request and they never spoke of it again. Brief, dark footage of dogs mating in silhouette. A magazine cover says "Sex Issue" with an illustration of a woman in bed with her knees up and hands in the foreground opening a condom.

Language

"F--k," "a--hole," "ass," "d--k around," "bitch about." "F--k" is seen several times in written correspondence between friends.

Consumerism

Cans of Coke stacked in a dorm-room window.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Sandi receives a bottle of wine in a package and is advised not to drink it all at once. Georges lights what looks like a corncob pipe for Sandi. Many female characters in the original Shirkers movie smoke heavily. Rare background smoking in documentary footage.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Shirkers is a documentary about the strange events and people surrounding the making of Singapore's first independent movie back in 1992. The plot of the original Shirkers involved a 16-year-old serial killer, although no violent footage is shown. A few classic film clips briefly show violence or disturbing images in rapid-fire succession. A couple of people mention stories that Georges, a mysterious and unreliable person, told about watching his brother bleed to death and about seeing Jayne Mansfield's decapitated head. Strong language isn't frequent but includes "f--k," "a--hole," and "d--k around." Rare sexual content includes a request to touch a stomach that was ignored, and a magazine cover titled "Sex Issue." There's a reference to not drinking a whole bottle of wine at once. Female characters in the original movie are heavy smokers. Best for mature teens and up who can enjoy piecing together a mystery from the perspective of looking back on the past and who can handle the slow, quiet pace and mature themes and situations.

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What's the story?

SHIRKERS tells how in 1992, three friends in Singapore decided to make a movie together. No one had ever tried to make an independent movie in Singapore before, so Sandi, Jasmine, and Sophia were going to have to find a way to make it happen all on their own. To direct the film, Sandi chose her mysterious, enigmatic film school teacher, Georges Cardova. Against all the odds, they managed to complete filming over the course of the summer before they all scattered across the globe to go back to school. Georges was left with the film and the job of putting it all together back in Singapore. As the months wore on and no movie arrived from Georges in the mail, the three friends felt pretty strongly that something was wrong. When they returned to Singapore, Georges and every last trace of the movie they'd worked so hard on had disappeared. This documentary tells the story of Sandi's attempts 25 years later to piece together what exactly happened to the movie that (almost) never was.

Is it any good?

This quiet, gently paced documentary tells a compelling, mysterious story that explores themes of friendship, trust, and reclaiming your life after bitter disappointment and betrayal. A lot of the footage in Shirkers is repetitive, and in the middle the slow pace gets pretty tiresome. But it keeps enough suspense and tension going to hold viewer interest until the mystery is solved. It's also a fascinating look into life in Singapore, especially for viewers who don't know much about the small island nation.

Teens will relate to the friends' drive and eagerness to do something unique and important, and they'll admire Sandi, Jasmine, and Sophia's ability to create something from almost nothing. Not all questions are answered, and not all issues are neatly wrapped up in the end, which ultimately gives it a true-to-life, if bittersweet, feeling. Best for mature teens who can handle the slow pace, mature themes, and occasional strong language.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Shirkers addresses, or doesn't address, some of the dangers Sandi and the others faced, sometimes without even seeming to realize it at the time. Sandi was aware that her road trip with Georges wasn't quite right and so she never told anyone about it. What could she have done differently?

  • How do you think Sandi and her friends managed to make the original movie happen in the first place? How would things have been different if they'd been in the U.S. instead of Singapore? Is there something you've always wanted to do or to try, but you haven't quite known how to make it happen?

  • What other documentaries have you seen? Which ones do you like the best? What types of stories make good documentaries? 

  • What are the challenges in making an independent movie? In what ways is it much harder than making a commercial film?

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