Speak

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgas..., Common Sense Media
Speak Movie Poster Image
High school rape, teen drinking in intense movie.
  • PG-13
  • 2004
  • 93 minutes

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Positive Messages

You'll feel better if you share your terrible experiences with friends and family. Victims of sexual assault aren't to blame for being attacked. You can't make a difference unless you speak up. You should always know what you are for, not just what you are against.

Positive Role Models & Representations

After having been raped by an older student at a party, a high school freshman girl is extremely depressed. Her friends shun her, not knowing that the rape has caused her altered behavior. A teacher runs his class ruthlessly and bullies some of his students. An art teacher tries to coax creative expression from his students. Both of Melinda's parents are self-absorbed and clueless. An authoritarian history teacher blames immigrants for ruining the United States and when students speak up to refute his position, he ends the debate. One student calls the teacher a racist and walks out in protest. Melinda calls a friend who betrayed her a "self-centered social climber." A boy rapes a girl, pretends that nothing happened, and gets angry and attacks her again when he learns she's told someone what he did.

Violence

A boy rapes a girl as she cries for him to stop. Her anguish is seen in close-ups of her face as she cries, "No." There is no nudity. A boy angrily attacks a girl and she grabs a saw and hits him with it. He yells that he can't see and a bloody cut is seen on his face. A girl cuts her finger in art class. Some blood is seen. Frustrated, a girl walks into her closet and screams into some clothing to let off steam.

Sex

A high school freshman girl and an older high school boy dance and kiss. Later he invites her to go for a drive but instead he attacks her sexually in a car and leaves her crying when he's finished. Boys refer to freshmen girls as "fresh meat." Students kiss in the hallway.

Language

High school kids taunt a student who brought the police to a party where there was underage drinking, yelling, "oink," and calling her "squealer." "Horny," "shut up," "bitch," "a—hole."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teenagers drink alcohol. Adults smoke cigarettes.  

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Speak, a Showtime 2004 movie based on a novel of the same name by Laurie Halse Anderson, is an intense study of the aftermath of a sexual assault by a high school boy at a party where there was underage drinking. The assault is depicted in a close-up of the anguished face of the attacked high school girl. No nudity is seen. The movie suggests that the trauma of the attack is made worse for the victim when she remains silent about what happened to her. The subjects of bullying and social isolation are also addressed. Close friends blame the victim for calling the police, which broke up the party and led to the arrest of several friends, who suffered consequences. None of the friends were aware that she called the police because of the rape.  Language includes "horny, "a--hole," "bitch," and "shut up." 

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What's the story?

At the start of SPEAK, shy, bright freshman Melinda (Kristen Stewart) is thrilled to have the attention of handsome high school senior Andy (Eric Lively) at a party. They drink alcohol and she willingly dances with him. She also kisses him, but when he forces himself on her, she yells, "No" and cries through the rape. Although she calls the police, she is too traumatized to stay and report it when they arrive. The police break up the party and arrest some teens. Melinda tells no one of the rape. She becomes increasingly depressed and isolated as former friends taunt her and cut her off for ruining the party. In her loneliness, she wonders how long it would take for anyone to notice if she stopped talking. She never goes completely mute, but her relative reticence serves to create a sense in her of invisibility, uselessness, and self-loathing. A free-spirited art teacher, aptly named Mr. Freeman (Steve Zahn), manages to help her realize her self-worth and ultimately she finds her voice.

Is it any good?

This is a startlingly good film on what has become a familiar subject in both fiction and life -- the story of rape and its lasting effect on victims. Kristen Stewart's singular poise and self-possession (four years before she achieved infamy as Bella in the Twilight series) as the traumatized Melinda help the audience begin to understand how a victim might feel that her free will has been erased by rape. The attack destabilizes the security of her world -- no wonder she might feel reporting the attack would be useless and even self-defeating. Director Jessica Sharzer deftly organizes the story around several moving epiphanies that at first seem extraneous to the issue of rape but brilliantly expose the connections so many moments of emotional breakthrough have with reaching sufficient maturity and strength to stand up for oneself. The movie recaptures the powerlessness kids can feel in school, well illustrated when at the last minute a cruel teacher forces a shy girl to orally present her extra credit assignment rather than simply hand it in to him. Speak nicely makes the argument that slashed arts curricula in schools also can have lasting negative effects on students deprived of increasingly rare opportunities for self-expression.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why someone like Melinda in Speak might not want to report a rape.

  • Do you think some victims mistakenly feel responsible for the bad actions of their attackers? Do you think some victims are afraid people won't believe them?

  • What would you advise a friend who was reluctant to report a sexual assault?

  • What should you do if you are ever sexually assaulted?

Movie details

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