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The Normal Heart
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the thought-provoking The Normal Heart candidly explores the early years of the HIV/AIDS crisis with jarring scenes involving illness and death, unbleeped language (including "f--k"), and simulated sex (including full-frontal nudity and sex with multiple partners). There's also some social drinking along with depictions of recreational drug use, but those elements aren't the focus.
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What's the story?
Based on Larry Kramer's largely autobiographical play of the same name, THE NORMAL HEART centers on gay writer Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo), who becomes an outspoken activist for the emerging "cancer" that's plaguing the gay community in the early 1980s. While working closely with a doctor (Julia Roberts) to find much-needed answers, Ned founds a grassroots HIV-advocacy group and falls in love with a closeted journalist (Matt Bomer).
Is it any good?
Although this is a work of fiction, the stories it tells about the emerging AIDS crisis in America are honest and heartbreakingly real, thanks to deeply affecting performances. Bomer, Jim Parsons, Taylor Kitsch, and Joe Mantello (who played Ned Weeks in the 2011 Broadway revival), to name a few, are all excellent. And whether or not you're gay, you'll feel sadness, shock, and anger long after the closing credits have faded to black.
Although it's rightly aimed at mature audiences for its language and sexual content, The Normal Heart does explore a number of important themes -- among them, sex versus love and honesty versus privacy -- that could strike a chord with older teens, especially those who identify as gay or might still be exploring their sexual identities. It's also a sobering reminder of how far the gay community has come in terms of human rights and how much work remains until everyone is considered fully "human."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the facts behind this fictional drama and the real-life history The Normal Heart depicts. What does it mean to be gay today, and how does that compare to gay culture in 1981? Do any of the characters' attitudes and experiences surprise you? What types of discrimination does the gay community continue to face?
Does this movie speak primarily to gay audiences, or does it have relevance to a broader group as well?
Is The Normal Heart a rehashing of history or a call to action? What's the message for viewers? How can you tell?
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