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The Souvenir

Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
The Souvenir Movie Poster Image
Languid, lovely drama is best for patient adults.
  • R
  • 2019
  • 119 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Presents a compelling picture of the not particularly dramatic yet incredibly damaging chaos that an unstable individual can cause in others' lives. Family bonds are close and supportive, giving an example of how to cope when life is difficult. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Julie is a young woman growing into an adult; she sometimes allows people to take advantage of her, but she also has an inner strength that allows her to transcend problems and learn from them. Her mother, Rosalind, is a stalwart figure who supports her daughter but also holds her to high standards. Anthony is a troubled man who has complicated motives. 

Violence

IRA bombings are discussed in a general way; at one point, a bomb goes off outside Julie's house, and viewers hear screaming and a loud bang. A sudden death takes place offscreen. 

Sex

A couple starts a relationship; viewers see subtle visual representations of their sex life: A man buys a woman lingerie, and she models it for him, then crawls into bed, with the hump under the covers suggesting that she's performing oral sex on him. Later, the woman's face is shown as she moans and seemingly has an orgasm, then she peeks below the sheet to where the man is presumably performing oral sex on her.

Language

Mostly British slang vulgarities: "bloody 'ell," "bollocks," "c--t."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Many characters smoke cigarettes and drink at parties and gatherings. One character is a habitual heroin user; viewers never see him using, but he does have enlarged pupils and looks spacey. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Souvenir is a mature drama about a twentysomething film school student in the 1980s who has a turbulent romance. One main character is a heroin addict; viewers never see him using, but he does have enlarged pupils and looks spacey. Many characters also smoke and drink; some get expansive when drinking but otherwise don't seem drunk. IRA bombings are discussed at one point; later, a bomb goes off outside a character's house. Viewers hear the bang and screaming but don't see anything. A sudden death also takes place offscreen. Two characters are in a sexual relationship; the film indicates that they're performing oral sex on each other -- i.e. looking down at something beneath the covers and smiling. A woman also moans and breathes hard and seemingly has a quiet orgasm as the camera focuses on her face. Language is mostly British slang: "bloody 'ell," "bollocks," "c--t."

 

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What's the story?

THE SOUVENIR stars Honor Swinton Byrne as Julie, a young English art student in the 1980s who's intent on making a movie set in working-class shipyards and has wealthy parents (including Byrne's real-life mother, Tilda Swinton) who can afford to send her to film school and pay for her posh flat. Julie is happy enough, spending time storyboarding her movie and goofing off with her circle of friends. But when she meets Anthony (Tom Burke) -- a man with starched white cuffs, a job in the "foreign office," and lots of secrets -- her life takes a turn. And not for the better. 

Is it any good?

It takes a lot of time getting there, but this shimmering drama is singular and unforgettable for viewers who are patient enough to wait for its rewards. One detail may clue you in on whether you might enjoy The Souvenir or not: Toward the end of the movie, viewers watch a metal door open for 20 seconds, and then there are another 20 before the main character walks through it and the camera cuts away. Of course, in the context of the movie, that long (long!) moment is a beautiful one -- a woman we've gotten to know and sympathize with is leaving behind a troublesome situation and moving on with her life. Having watched her alternately struggle and stagnate for the better part of two hours, the opening door means something. But audiences who insist on plots ticking along probably will have likely already quit watching in frustration. 

Because it's true that this drama plays out in long, real-time scenes over cafe tables and in living rooms, with Julie and her family and friends chatting easily about art and life. For a leisurely stretch of The Souvenir, it's not even really clear what it's about -- we know Julie wants to make a movie, and we see that she's privileged enough that she can take her time doing it, but she seems as unclear about what she wants to make and why as we are about where this story is going. Eventually, a romance emerges with a man who explains things at length to her and words the answers to some of her questions in a way that the audience knows spells trouble. And that trouble does arrive, though that's not to imply that the movie is predictable. Instead, like people themselves, it's sometimes frustrating and sometimes lovely, with conclusions that are neither easy nor simple and take a long time to show themselves. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Souvenir portrays drug use/addiction. Does the movie warn viewers against drug use, or is it made to look appealing in any way? What are the consequences? Are they realistic?

  • Why do you think so many characters smoke in this movie? Do they make it look cool? Are there consequences? Does the widespread smoking communicate the time period in which the movie is set? 

  • How do movies tell viewers when and where they're taking place? Consider costumes, dialogue, and settings. What's the setting of this movie? How long did it take you to realize it was set in the 1980s and in an upper-crust slice of English society? 

Movie details

For kids who love dramas

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