Some violence, language in devoted-teacher drama.
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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 Substitute is a 2023 drama in which a new teacher gets involved when one of his students is threatened by a local drug dealer. There's some violence, including a car chase in which the lead character and one of his students are shot at by gangbangers. A gun is pulled on the lead character, and the villains attempt mass food poisoning. During a pivotal moment in the movie, vials of cocaine and prescription meds are found in bulk in a high school. The movie has cigarette smoking and drinking, as well as talk of smoking a joint. Kissing is seen, and brief nudity includes a view of male buttocks. Strong language throughout includes "f--k" and "motherf----r."
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What's the Story?
In THE SUBSTITUTE, Lucio (Juan Minujín) is a published poet who has just been passed over for a job teaching at a university in Buenos Aires. Divorced and with a daughter he wants to attend an exclusive high school, Lucio takes a job in the high school in the rough neighborhood where he grew up. He teaches literature to bored and exhausted students, but he gradually develops a bond with them, helped in part by his father, nicknamed "The Chilean," and the older man's work in the community center. Things take a turn when dozens of vials of cocaine and Clonazepam are discovered in the high school, believed to be left there by students working for a local drug lord nicknamed "El Perro." When Dilan, one of Lucio's students, gets into trouble with El Perro and goes into hiding, Lucio stops at nothing to find him and resolves to save his life by getting him out of the neighborhood and out of the country.
Is It Any Good?
This is an engaging movie, despite the "teacher teaching in a rough school" clichés. The Substitute is an Argentinian movie in which Lucio begins work trying to convert kids from the rough neighborhood where he himself grew up to literature and poetry. Predictably enough, this is met with boredom and active disinterest, but there's a lot that the movie gets right; namely, that when it's done right, the teacher learns as much as the students. That aspect comes through as Lucio navigates a middle age of divorce, a dying father, and a teen daughter trying to find her own independence from the demands of her parents.
Yes, there are some teacher clichés that always appear in movies like these, such as the student who loathes poetry but, low and behold, is the all-star freelance rapper of the class. It also lays it on a bit thick at the end, and everything seems a little too on the nose. Despite these clichés and the feeling that the movie at times tries to do and force too much, the acting and the direction keep the movie enjoyable and, if you're not too cynical, even inspiring.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about "teacher" movies like The Substitute. How is this similar to and different from other movies where a new teacher starts work at a tough high school and develops an attachment to the work and students?
How did the movie present the challenging circumstances that the students faced?
How does Lucio come to be a positive role model? What are some of the positive messages in the movie?
- On DVD or streaming: February 8, 2023
- Cast: Juan Minujín
- Director: Diego Lerman
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: High School
- Character Strengths: Compassion
- Run time: 112 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: February 17, 2023
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