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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Steven Soderbergh's The Laundromat is a quirky, spirited, star-studded drama that explains the Panama Papers scandal and why it still needs attention. Like The Big Short or Moneyball, the film portrays a dry, complicated subject -- in this case, off-shore accounts and shell companies -- with humanizing examples of why these things are shady and fraught with corruption. A widow played by Meryl Streep is the heart of the film: Her character exemplifies how curiosity and perseverance can make a difference. While it's by no means a faith-based film, the biblical promise that "the meek shall inherit the Earth" is a recurring theme. Expect some violent, upsetting, or mature images, including a disemboweled victim, a dream in which a sympathetic character goes on a shooting rampage, and (on a background TV) an adult film featuring two naked women pleasuring a man. Cocktails and alcohol are associated with wealth and privilege, and young viewers might find the excessive, lavish lifestyles of the "bad guys" appealing. Strong language includes frequent use of "f--k." Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas co-star.
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What's the story?
In THE LAUNDROMAT, widow Ellen Martin (Meryl Streep) is left without a settlement after the wrongful death of her husband (James Cromwell). She goes on a global quest to track down who was responsible and find out how they're able to get away with fraud. Her unrelenting search brings her to a Panama law firm that sets up shell companies for the wealthy and powerful.
Is it any good?
Steven Soderbergh's effort to educate viewers on important but dry matters of money manipulation is depressing, but it's not without purpose. The film directs viewers to stand up and take action, pointing out how laws have been changed to make tax avoidance easier by those who can afford a wealth management team. It's informative, explaining straight to the camera the origins of money, credit, and where it all goes askew. That said, it's hard to imagine most teens getting excited to be educated by a movie about financial manipulation and tax laws.
Unlike similarly themed movies The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short, The Laundromat isn't shockingly funny. But, like those films, the story is told from the perpetrators' point of view. They explain what happened while also shirking responsibility and pointing fingers at others. Clients find that their bad behavior has put them into a precarious position. They defend their solutions with arguments that adults may recognize don't hold water -- but to younger, more impressionable minds, those arguments may sound sensible. The cast is full of award winners and familiar faces, to the point that counting up the cameos is its own joy. The Laundromat isn't the zippiest film of its sort, but, for knowledge seekers, it's an entertaining way to understand money laundering at the highest level. It drives home how the rich and powerful are using loopholes and legal manipulations to avoid paying taxes, leaving the poor and middle class holding the bag.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about greed. Why do you think some of the wealthiest people in the world would want to avoid paying their fair share? What does that do to law-abiding citizens? Why do we pay taxes?
Talk about the reasons the lawyers give for why they shouldn't be held responsible for their clients' corrupt actions. Can something be legal but also immoral?
What action does the film want you to take? Do you feel inclined to do so? How can films be tools of change?
Several characters mention the Bible verse "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth." What does that mean? Why do you think the filmmaker kept coming back to that message?
- In theaters: September 27, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: October 18, 2019
- Cast: Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas
- Director: Steven Soderbergh
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Character strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 95 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language, some sexual content and disturbing images
- Last updated: May 21, 2020
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