A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this film includes frequent images of drug use and drunkenness, as Johnny Cash was a famously driven, unhappy man, as well as a brilliant artist. The film concerns his relationship with his wife June Carter, which involves both divorcing other spouses and tensions as she helps him fight his addictions. The film also features frequent cursing, drinking, and smoking, as well as fights between father and son. A boy is killed off-screen in a circle-saw accident. There is a brief sex scene and some adulterous behavior.
What's the story?
WALK THE LINE tells the life story of Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) as he tries to please his disparaging father Ray (Robert Patrick), and finds solace in his passions for music and June (Reese Witherspoon). June and Johnny's legendary mutual devotion helps to make his equally infamous orneriness seem worthwhile. The film begins with Johnny's childhood trauma-that-becomes-life-crushing-guilt – the death of his older brother. Johnny joins the Air Force, and buys his first guitar while stationed in Germany in 1955. While in the Air Force, Johnny sees a newsreel about Folsom Prison, feels a kinship with the inmates, and writes "Folsom Prison Blues," the song with the dicey lyrics that convinces Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts) to sign him. Johnny falls in love with fellow country singer June, but he's married to Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin), who resents his absence and addictions. As Johnny's fame grows, his marriage falls apart and he desperately tries to win June, who inspires him in his career and eventually agrees to marry him.
Is it any good?
Fascinating and well-acted, WALK THE LINE's mythologizing of Johnny Cash is never very surprising (though Phoenix's performance is frequently remarkable). Predictably showcasing high and low points, this biopic wrestles the man's contradictions and passions into a typical, palatable shape. The dead brother story begs comparison to Ray Charles', as do the two films' structural similarities.
June's dedication to Johnny is admirable and profound, She supports her man in all circumstances, even when Johnny makes it hard to love him. It makes all the difference, as the film loves their glorious duets and returns repeatedly to her moral and emotional schooling. Throughout the film, June's gaze makes Johnny seem inspired and exceptional. It's a familiar story, the good woman who stands by her man. And it's tantalizing too, suggesting that another, perhaps less typical story might be found in June's life.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether or not they feel this is an accurate portrayal of the events in Cash's life. Are there biases involved in the storytelling? Does the movie further the myth of Johnny Cash or provide new insight into his character? From whose point of view is the story told?
- In theaters: November 18, 2005
- On DVD or streaming: February 28, 2006
- Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon
- Director: James Mangold
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 136 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some language, thematic material and depiction of drug dependency.
For kids who love music
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.