The Bad Kids

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
The Bad Kids Movie Poster Image
Moving doc about troubled teens has powerful themes.
  • NR
  • 2016
  • 100 minutes

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

The teens learn that they can succeed, even against long odds, if they persevere. Sometimes having just one person care about you can make all the difference. But there are no easy or fast fixes for hard situations, either.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The teens come from difficult circumstances, yet they mostly manage to achieve success, often in spite of daunting challenges including homelessness, addiction, abuse, poverty, and more. The school principal is a champion for those sorely in need of one, but she isn't afraid to set boundaries and teach the teens why those boundaries and rules are important.

Violence

Tense arguments between parents and children.

Sex

Hugging and kissing.

Language

Occasional swearing, mostly forms of "f--k" and "s--t." 

Consumerism

A few well-known brands are seen on screen, including Pepsi and Sony, but they're captured as part of the documentary process, rather than as promotion.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Discussion about a student whose mother takes drugs -- and who later starts using himself. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Bad Kids is a moving documentary about troubled high school students and the special school in California's Mojave Desert region that may be their last chance. The film follows a few of them through the course of a year as they try to overcome the many hurdles in their difficult lives, and some parts can be wrenching to watch, even though ultimately the message centers on compassion and perseverance. Despite a fair bit of profanity (mostly "f--k" and "s--t"), this is a good film for parents to watch with teens and may prompt some discussion about the challenges of growing up.

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What's the story?

THE BAD KIDS aren't really "bad" at all -- they're just trying to get through school, even though the deck is stacked heavily against them. Abuse survivors, teen parents, kids with drug-addicted parents (or no parents): These are the students at Black Rock High School, situated on the edge of Southern California's Mojave Desert. The documentary focuses on a handful of these teens as they try to graduate, with various degrees of success, while also showing their real-life struggles and very difficult life circumstances. 

Is it any good?

The area surrounding the Mojave Desert is a starkly beautiful region but also tough and unforgiving; so is this deeply moving documentary. The material is compelling: A principal and her staff attempt to reach -- and teach -- teens whom some have deemed unteachable so they can find their place in the world with confidence and worth. And the way this story is told, with deep compassion, and the kids it follows, will break your heart and stick with you long after the credits roll.

The filmmakers refrain from pushing emotional buttons unnecessarily; they let the sad, brutal stories each student calls his or her daily existence do the work for you. And they back it all with memorable cinematography of a place that's both forlorn and unforgettable. The only thing missing from The Bad Kids, perhaps, is a follow-up right before the ending that closes the loop on each subject's arc. But perhaps that's the way it is in real life: There are very few easy, or happy, endings.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the teens at the center of The Bad Kids. What do you think about their situation? Are they the result of bad luck, poor choices, or both? What do you think you'd do in their place?

  • How does the movie promote themes of compassion and perseverance? Why are those important character strengths?

  • What is "tough love"? What are the pros and cons of that type of approach? How does this film illustrate it?

  • How do the real teens in this documentary compare to troubled teens in fictional movies? Which are more relatable to you? Why do you think that is?

Movie details

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