A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that while vulgar and blunt, this comedy -- which stars American Pie alum Seann William Scott -- actually has a surprising amount of heart and is a human-yet-hardened satire of modern corporate America. Much of the film is from the perspective of a character who yearns for a promotion that he's earned after years of demeaning and dangerous work; as the competition for the coveted position heats up, Doug has to come to terms with what he will -- and won't -- do to get ahead. Language is colorful and frequent (including "f--k" and "p---y"), and there's some drinking, drug use, and sexual content as well.
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What's the story?
Doug (Seann William Scott) is a hard worker at a Chicago-area grocery store who only wants to provide a good life for his wife (Jenna Fischer) and himself. So when his company announces a new store opening in the area, he wants to be the manager. He's told he's a "shoo-in," but when fellow assistant manager Richard (John C. Reilly) is transferred from Quebec, the competition heats up, and both Doug and Richard do what they can to jockey for position. Richard's not a bad guy -- he's a husband and father who's trying to recover from some lost years as part of a biker gang -- but the two men soon find themselves driven to further and further extremes as the aloof suits in the head office look for one candidate to stand out.
Is it any good?
The Promotion is a fairly unblinking look at modern American life, and it sneaks up on you with a superbly balanced mix of comedy and drama. It was written and directed by Steve Conrad, who also wrote The Pursuit of Happyness and The Weather Man. This movie may be less sentimental than those films on the surface, but, like Judd Apatow's best films, the four-letter words and squirm-inducing comedy actually hide a surprisingly well-intentioned heart. Scott -- now a little older than when we met him in the American Pie films and finally believable as a grown-up -- gets to actually play a character here (unlike his lesser roles in lesser films), and he's a real pleasure to watch, portraying Doug's frustrations and dreams with a real, rich sense of humanity and deadpan comedy. Reilly is equally impressive. Richard initially seems a little dopey and goofy, but in time, Reilly's performance and Conrad's script bring Richard to life as an equally complicated striver. Both men dream of making the jump from assistant manager to manager -- and, by extension, from short-sleeves to long ones.
Part of The Promotion's satire is in how far Doug and Richard are willing to go in the name of seemingly miniscule advancement; at the same time, it's clear that the promotion would truly change things for the better for each man. Both Doug and Richard are capable of doing things they aren't proud of, and it's a tribute to Conrad's script that we get to glimpse their struggles and self-judgment peeking through comedy that, while it earns big laughs, never feels too broad or showy. Conrad isn't afraid to talk about sticky topics, either -- race, class, and corporate America all come up in The Promotion, and there's some food for thought among the gags.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how movies and TV shows tend to portray the corporate world. Do you think that people really do unethical things to get ahead? What qualifies as "unethical"? Families can also discuss the movie's point, which is ultimately about doing (or, rather, trying to do) the right thing. Why is it sometimes hard to make the right choices? Is it ever OK to compromise what you believe in to succeed?
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