A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this fairly unsentimental dramedy about what life is like for soldiers on leave from war deals with themes and subjects that may be overwhelming for younger teens. It doesn't pull any punches, depicting civilian life as being just as fraught as fighting in Iraq. Some scenes show the soldiers in battle and getting injured, and there are frank discussions about the aftereffects of war. There's also a fair amount of strong language, some drinking, liberal use of sexual innuendoes, and a moment in which a couple is caught in the middle of having sex (though not too much skin is shown).
What's the story?
Three soldiers deployed to Iraq -- paternal Cheaver (Tim Robbins), hopeful Colee (Rachel McAdams), and pragmatic T.K. (Michael Pena) -- are thrown together on their way home. After their flights end up canceled, they decide to share a van to get to their respective destinations. Thus begins a trouble-plagued journey that proves they may not be so lucky after all to have returned home alive -- unlike some of their peers -- because civilian life, though infinitely less dangerous, is in some ways just as challenging as combat. Cheaver's wife isn't exactly welcoming him with open arms, and his son needs $20,000 asap for college. Colee is returning the guitar that her boyfriend/fellow soldier owned before he was killed in hopes that his family, whom she doesn't know, will take her in. And T.K. isn't sure his fiance will want him anymore when she finds out exactly how he's been injured.
Is it any good?
THE LUCKY ONES has lots of flaws, including artificial twists, cliched setups, and all-too-familiar road-trip snafus (keys left in a locked car, bickering travelers, etc.). The story opens up like a highway with uninteresting pit stops. But the movie has heart, and that's what saves it. It plays on a low register, smartly aware that its basic premise -- veterans who are hobbled physically must endure emotional warfare, too -- is already intense. Given the heavy subject matter, director Neil Burger smartly realizes that it's better to keep a light touch and deftly mixes humor with drama.
The Lucky Ones is also fortunate to have a great cast. Robbins is sympathetic yet subtle, McAdams balances fear and awkwardness with optimism and spirituality (she really is lovely, even in a role this gritty), and Pena is surprising in a role that's hard to pin down because it's refreshingly complex.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the media typically depicts war and its consequences. How is this film different from other movies about war? How is it similar? The filmmakers have said they made a point of not actually using the word "Iraq" in the script -- how can you tell that this movie is about that war anyway? Families can also discuss soldiers' homecoming. Does it seem less than spectacular? Why? Why is the film titled The Lucky Ones? What makes these characters lucky -- or unlucky?
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