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Parents' Guide to

Smoke Signals

By Brian Costello, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 14+

Alcoholism, violence in groundbreaking 1990s dramedy.

Movie PG-13 1998 89 minutes
Smoke Signals Movie Poster

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This is a groundbreaking 1990s indie coming-of-age dramedy that's showing its age. As a movie made by and starring Native Americans, Smoke Signals went far to confront the stereotypes of a culture and people that found its way into movies practically from the moment movies were first made. In that regard, life on the reservation in the late 1990s and those who lived there are presented in all the ways that make them unique. It doesn't shy away from the problems of alcoholism and poverty, but it's also anchored by a dry ironic humor and a celebration of a culture as the second act transforms into something more like a "buddy movie."

However, the heavy-handed messaging hasn't aged well. It's like the filmmakers, cast, and crew were all aware of how much deplorable stereotyping and one-dimensional characters littered movie screens for so long that they wanted to overcome all of that in one fell swoop. It leads to some forced preachy dialogue that doesn't serve the story, a story that's conveying these messages just fine on its own. It's a decent movie all these years later, but the Sherma Alexie book on which it is based, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, is better.

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