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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Last Picture Show is one of the greatest American films ever made. The emotional depth and strong sexual content throughout the film make this one best for mature teens and adults only. Characters speak freely and frankly about sex, losing their virginity, and prostitution, and there's some full-frontal female nudity and bare male bottoms. Several characters have sex, though the main act is mostly offscreen. Characters smoke and underage characters drink.
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What's the story?
It is the fall of 1951 in Anarene, Texas, population 1131. Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges) are high school seniors and best friends in the process of growing into manhood. Duane is dating Jacy (Cybill Shepherd), the prettiest girl in town who is learning how to use her beauty to her advantage. Sonny has always been attracted to Jacy, but between her beauty and her dating Duane, he always felt she was out of reach. In the next year, these three grow up and come to terms with who they are and where they want to go in life as Sonny has an affair with the wife of his coach; Duane loses Jacy to kids from families as wealthy as hers; and Jacy manipulates them both for her own ends. Restless in their stultifying small town, these three characters must decide if they want to inherit the lives they see lived by the older residents around them, or if they want to find something beyond Anarene's city limits.
Is it any good?
Simply put, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW belongs in the top 10 all-time greatest American movies. Set in the early 1950s, the past is evoked through black-and-white film and Hank Williams on the radio. Director Peter Bogdanovich, with an outstanding ensemble cast turning in some of their best work, creates a world that is both rooted in its era and full of universal themes of growing up, growing old, first loves, the restlessness of late teens, the contradictions of middle-age, and the facades people wear in public, in small towns in particular.
The dust storms, the country music on the radio, the nuance and subtlety in the performances all create a mood and production that seems effortless. Rarely in movies do characters seem so real. For aspiring writers and filmmakers, The Last Picture Show is one incredible lesson in how to create a world, a time, and the fully-formed characters who inhabit it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how this film captures a year of life in a small Texas town in the early 1950s. How do we understand that time is passing? How is the sense that this town has seen better days conveyed in the film?
Why do you think this film was black and white?
While set in a very specific time and place -- a small town in Texas in 1951-1952 -- what are some of the more universal problems and desires the characters experience?
- In theaters: October 22, 1971
- On DVD or streaming: November 30, 1999
- Cast: Cybill Shepherd, Dennis Quaid, Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms
- Director: Peter Bogdanovich
- Studio: Criterion Collection
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship, High School, History
- Run time: 118 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: sexuality, nudity, and language
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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