The Playroom

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
The Playroom Movie Poster Image
Parents seek joy, ignore kids in difficult, powerful drama.
  • NR
  • 2013
  • 83 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Pretty bleak messages about parenthood and family. A teen girl is forced to become a surrogate parent when her parents are too absorbed in their own lives to pay attention to their children's needs. It's a heavy burden, and while she's mostly up to the task, it's clear she doesn't enjoy it and resents her parents for foisting it upon her.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The adults are universally poor role models who leave their four children to raise themselves, largely ignored, while they pursue their own pleasures, seemingly oblivious to the damage they might inflict on others -- including behavior that threatens to destroy a family.

Violence

Two men get into a fight, pushing and shoving each other across a room. Adults also get into heated screaming arguments that include throwing objects at others.

Sex

A girl is shown topless when a teenage couple has sex; the sequence includes a brief but frank discussion about birth control and the fact that it's her first time. A married woman flirts with another woman's husband, including kissing and some fondling. Two couples angrily talk about the fact that two of them are having an affair. In the morning, the four of them wake up in two beds, sleeping nude next to people who aren't their spouses.

Language

Occasional swearing includes "f--k," "s--t," "bulls--t," and "bitch."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults are shown drinking all through a long evening, starting the moment they walk in the door from work. By the end of the evening, some of them are pretty drunk. Some of them also smoke (accurate for the movie's era). A teen girl steals a cigarette from her mom and goes outside to smoke. Children clean up after their parents' wild night, putting away plenty of half-filled drink glasses and emptying very full ashtrays.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Playroom is an unnerving look at the "Me Decade," aka the 1970s, when people were encouraged to do whatever they wanted, even if they caused great harm to those around them. Over the course of one tumultuous night, teenage Maggie watches over her three younger siblings while her parents host another couple for a grown-up evening of drinking, flirting, and possibly more risque behavior -- which could threaten their family. A teen girl is shown topless in a scene in which she has sex for the first time, and there's kissing and fondling in other scenes as well. There are also several intense and very realistic arguments, as well as plenty of drinking and (era-accurate) smoking. Expect some swearing (including "f--k" and "s--t") during the characters' highly emotional conflicts.

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What's the story?

Teenage Maggie (Olivia Harris) and her three younger siblings are upstairs in THE PLAYROOM in the attic making up stories about a land with no grown-ups, while their mom and dad host another couple for a night of adult "fun" sometime in the 1970s. This being the Me Decade, the parents are focused on doing whatever they want, no matter what impact their decisions have on others. Maggie is horrified to watch as her mother (Molly Parker) threatens to bring down the entire family -- while her dad (John Hawkes) stands idly by.

Is it any good?

This powerful drama starts quietly and sneaks up on you, creating a home that feels oh so real, filled with people you probably know but might not like very much. The festive evening goes downhill quickly, but nobody wants to admit that they're not having fun. It's tough and at times unnerving to watch these people deceive themselves; Hawkes and Harris dig deep to show what it's like to be so powerless. Ultimately it's an intense look at how selfish behavior can destroy everyone nearby.

The Playroom is a real place, where these sadly ignored children craft a make-believe place to escape the horror of a family that's falling apart. The 1970s is both the movie's setting and, in part, its villain -- a time when adults were encouraged to find out exactly what they want and then do it. "You can't just do whatever you please," Hawkes' character Martin tells his wife. "Watch me," she replies with scorn, and it may be too late to save them. Too bad for Maggie, but at least she might have a way out. It's worse for the little ones, who are trapped in a crumbling home.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the parents in The Playroom. Do they seem realistic and believable? Are they good parents? Are they intended to be?

  • How do you think the parents' lifestyle affects their four children?

  • How does the movie depict its 1970s setting? Does it seem glamorized at all? How are sex, drugs, and drinking portrayed? How might the movie be different if it took place today?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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