Preteen girl looking at a cell phone with her parents

Family movie night? There's an app for that

Download our new mobile app on iOS and Android.

Parents' Guide to

Speech & Debate

By Brian Costello, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 15+

Coming-of-age tale confronts teen issues; sex and drinking.

Movie NR 2017 115 minutes
Speech & Debate Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

There aren't any parent reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say Not yet rated
Kids say (1 ):

Based on a 2008 off-Broadway play, this movie seems determined to cover every issue of concern for teenagers under the sun, and then some. Adult hypocrisy, teachers who are sexual predators, fuddy-duddy school boards, homophobia, internet hate and humiliation, bullying, teen pregnancy, underage drinking, freedom of speech, the difficulties in being a gay teenager new to a small town -- these are all addressed. It takes these issues on with a fearlessness not seen since perhaps the John Hughes teen movies of the 80s. And while not perfect, Speech & Debate does an admirable job of capturing the adventure and apprehension that so typifies older teens as they have their first-time experiences with the complexities of adulthood. And there are also some very funny moments: Parents who grew up in the '80s and '90s will love the cheesy production values of the Speech & Debate VCR tape the lead characters watch.

When creating teen characters, many writers make the mistakes of either making teens too young, too old, or too one-dimensional. Speech & Debate manages to avoid these traps, despite falling into the trap in which nearly every adult (with the exception of Janeane Garofolo's character, who, in a memorable scene, puts drama-queen Diwata in her place) is a hypocrite, dumb, square, or hopelessly conservative. And while the three teen lead characters are developed and believable, there are times when Sarah Steele -- who plays the drama club ham of the bunch -- forsakes depth and nuance in favor of doing an imitation of Bette Midler's character in Beaches. And the constant striving to attain teen realism and credibility, either through the endless litany of teen topics addressed or emoji-laden text exchanges, becomes tiresome. Nonetheless, compared to so many weaker attempts to convey the proverbial teenage wasteland, the good far outweighs the bad.

Movie Details

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate